Mid-Year Goal Check

 

Image courtesy of Pauline Eccles via Wikimedia Commons (originally published geography.org.uk 2009)
Image courtesy of Pauline Eccles via Wikimedia Commons (originally published geography.org.uk 2009)

As we approach the shortest day of the year (or the longest for those lucky folk experiencing warm weather) it is a reminder that the year is racing past. We might be at the half way mark, but are we half way to our goals for the year?

There is a lot I had on my list of goals for the year, but at the moment I’m trying to be a little less goal focused. Not because I don’t want to achieve but because I was killing myself with the guilt of not achieving, or meeting deadlines and plans and goals.

It might be time to revisit that list of goals: to check that the right path is being followed, they are your goals and not someone else’s, and not a list so long that it cannot possibly be achieved in a year.

My goals changed very early on this year as I decided this was the year to focus on making writing my life, not just writing around my life.

I have already reached one goal – to complete my Master of Arts (Creative Writing). It was hard work but worth every moment and I’ll be displaying my testamur prominently when it arrives.

I have refocused on my fantasy novel. I wanted to get the first draft of my next novel underway but I knew that it wouldn’t happen. It is no good starting the next one when I haven’t finished this one. I have been spending some time planning so it will be easier when I do start drafting.

I have created a website and started my blog, which is still a work in progress and I’m learning all the time. My initial plan was to blog once a week and there have been times when this was a bit difficult. After some reading and refocusing I have decided to try to write more frequently, so far increasing my posts to two a week.

I worry that I’m not reading enough but I’m reading more non-fiction this year. I’m certainly on my way to reaching my quota, just not by fiction. It was what I needed this year to help me on my way.

And I’m working hard at the gym, trying to eat well and slowly moving towards my goal weight. Like anything it is a matter of putting my all into it. That doesn’t mean all my time; I can’t be at the gym 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. But I can ensure I am fully focused when I am there. And I take that commitment into my writing, ensuring that when I sit down to write my writing has my full focus.

I recently sat at the kitchen island typing away knowing that there was a large, and very hairy, huntsman spider watching my every move from the pantry door behind me. As scared as I was I knew the writing was more important and focusing on that I forgot the spider was even there until someone else got up and found it. They then very kindly helped it outside for me. There was a time when that would have put me off completely and I would have gone back to bed. But knowing I can deal with such big distractions makes it easier to deal with the little ones.

In my review of my 2014 goals I haven’t tweaked that much.

Refocusing my goals has helped refocus me. I know I’m on the right path. I know what I will achieve this year and where that will lead me next year.

As the solstice approaches do you find yourself half way down the 2014 goal track? Or have you wandered from the path? Refocusing your goals might be just what you need to continue your journey.

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Short Stories

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I mentioned last time that I was playing with the idea of pulling a collection of short stories together.

Usually I would describe myself as a writer of longer stories – novel length. I struggled with the short story feeling it wasn’t enough words to tell the whole story. I couldn’t really see the story as finished after several thousand words. The characters lived on, their stories continued and evolved. How could I stop writing?

For my recent Masters course most of my assessment was by short story. This was a huge learning curve for me. No matter what I thought was best for the characters or the story, I needed to work out how to confine the narrative within the confines of the short story. The university setting offered great support for this learning with the feedback from tutorial groups and tutors.

At the end of the course I have a small pile of reasonable stories that I would like to do something with – but what?

I submitted one (yes, only one) to a fantasy magazine but the readers found it too ambiguous. From my recent reading about self-publishing I now have more confidence in appealing to an audience. I quite enjoy a little ambiguity in my reading, I’m sure there are other such readers out there too.

Each story is quite different ranging across various forms of fantasy and science fiction. I am in the process of editing each one and writing another – that is part treat because it seems like forever since I got to draft some fresh fiction.

This is a real push for me to get some writing out there. It is challenging my self-confidence. I’m also looking at self-publishing the collection which is another challenge. This push into self-publishing is partly to see if I am right about my audience and to see if I can self-publish or whether I want to.

It is worth challenging yourself and pushing your boundaries because you never know what you may learn from the experience or what you may be able to achieve. I have discovered that short stories are worth the time and hopefully that I can tell a story in fewer words. What could you do to push your boundaries?

What have you done to really challenge yourself? What did you learn from that?

 

Image – Reading a book from Flikr – by ckaroli

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Story Magic

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I have been drafting a short story – just little bits when I can. The idea is that it will be one of the stories for a collection I’m playing with.

I seem to have spent so long editing and planning that I had forgotten how a story can unfold across the page. I have talked about trialling some planning/outlining for my next novel but I’m deliberately pantsing this one. It might be a bit disjointed and there are times when I worry about what should come next.

Knowing that I will need to rewrite parts, or most, of it hasn’t slowed the writing at all. The first four of five paragraphs will disappear without a thought. I used them as my introduction, to expand and explore the main character as an exercise in getting to know them and not required for the story. Really it was just a place to start, to get the words flowing and see where it went. And I have had some nice surprises along the way, even though I’m only a few pages in.

Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing all this…trying to write. Whether I am any good at it; whether I will ever be able to sell any of it or make some form of living from it. Then there are moments, like when I’m surprised by the words that flow across the page and I am reminded of the joy of writing.

And that is something to hold on to.

Allow yourself a little of the joy to keep you going when it seems a bit hard. Writing can be hard work. When it feels too hard I try to remember that I started writing because of the magic of the first draft. Where is your magic?

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Taking Action on Your Goals

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I have been focused on taking action on my writing goals over the last few weeks. Researching and exploring the reasons we don’t act on our goals. In particular I’ve been trying to determine why my own action taking cycles.

I am a planner.

Hang on, I hear you say, no she’s not, she’s a pantser. Yes, in my writing I am but otherwise I really love my lists and calendars and mindmaps and goals.

I think it is important to set our goals (in ink) and plan our time and set deadlines for ourselves.

This is not enough. To reach our goals we need to take action – to follow through with the plans and work through the lists.

Sometimes it can be hard to take action even for something we really want.

This inability to take action can be due to a number of reasons:

  • Energy levels
  • Motivation/inspiration
  • Fear
  • They are not the right goals
  • lost sight of goals
  • too many goals
  • Distraction
  • Lack of commitment
  • Failing to plan

 

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading about how to move through these issues/problems to take action on my writing goals and write more.

I don’t want to be productivity focused – I know I can write more, I want to write more – so how do I do it?

Energy management – Knowing when you work best and working to that cycle. I have discussed this in greater detail here. Remember not to beat yourself up when your energy levels are low.

Fear – Whether it be fear of failure or fear of success or something in between, fear can be so overwhelming it can slow or halt all action.

Motivation – Are you working towards what you really want or what you think you want?

Too much or too little – Are you trying to achieve too much and just don’t have the time. Focus on what is most important to you first. Overwhelming yourself with too many goals will only stop you achieving.

Distractions – Understand what distracts you from taking action and find ways to reduce or remove those distractions.

I know that if I check my email before I do any writing of a morning then I can quite happily fill my whole writing time with reading emails and following up on links to articles and Facebook and so on.

Aware of this I don’t allow myself to even think about email or blogs until after dinner, or sometimes during lunch time at work. Even if I want to check for something, as soon as it is open I know my hour is lost.

 

Finding the tools to help you

  • Everyone is different – I have said this before when looking for tools for your toolbox; see what others are doing and what works for them and then take from them what will work for you.
  • Don’t be afraid to mix it up – take tools from various areas
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment – try something new and if it doesn’t work for you walk away, or change it to suit yourself.

 

This isn’t a complete list

There is far more that I could go into. And action taking is different for everyone. Some of you will find it easy to sit down and do what is needed; others will struggle even though you know taking action will get you closer to what you want.

Can it be that easy?  What does it take to be able to action your goals?

 

Image courtesy of Wiki commons
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Reading on Productivity

 

By El coleccionista de instantes [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by El coleccionista de instantes  via Wikimedia Commons
In my slower (blocked) period recently, I spent some time reading about productivity in the hope of improving my writing and writing speed, amongst other things. This may seem like a strange thing to be reading about when my productivity was at zero. But it was interesting and a great form of procrastination because I could justify it as writing related.

My curiosity about productivity and increasing it has stemmed from a renewed dedication to working toward living from my writing. Yet to do this I really need to get some writing out there for people to read. My first novel (which was not so good) took me five years to write. And my current novel is into its third year of production. To me this seems too slow even given the fact that I’m writing around a day job and family.

 

So I asked: How do I speed this up? And how can I write faster? Will writing faster affect the quality of my writing?

 

In my search for the answers I came across a couple of great books. So great I had to share.

 

The first was Write, Publish, Repeat by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant.

I fell across this book by accident and am so pleased that I did. It contains confident information from writers who are out there publishing lots of very good books, in a clear, no nonsense style.

What I learnt:

  • Money can be made from fiction writing,
  • You don’t have to follow what everyone else is doing – it is ok to write what you want to, and
  • Outlining is required

What I’m trying

  • Writing what I want rather than what I think a publisher would want
  • Attempting my version of outlining for the next novel.

 

The second was 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love by Rachel Aaron.

This was full of very clear advice and steps as to how the author increased her own word count. I haven’t read any of her other work yet, but her blog is quite good and worth a look.

What I learnt:

  • We need to know what we are doing now and how well that works before we can determine what we need to change.
  • Planning/outlining is required

What I’m trying:

  • Mad record keeping of every minute spent doing something vaguely writing related.
  • Attempting my version of outlining for the next novel.

 

These books were in part responsible for getting me back on track with my writing, even though they were great procrastination tools at the time. That fact may give a little acknowledgement to the idea that procrastination can be good for your writing too, but I may just be trying to justify my inactivity.

I also learnt a lot more than the few points I made above and I’m sure they will come into future posts.

I believe it is important to look at what other writers are doing and what works for them and then take from it what will work for you. This gives us more options as writers to improve our own practice and who better to learn from than writers out there making a living? It is all experimental. There will be times when what worked at one point doesn’t work for the next novel, or short story.

I do not believe that you should take what works for someone else and wholly follow their processes and practice. It will only lead to disappointment.

I am trying to learn more about my current practices with my obsessive time keeping. I am also trialling some different versions of outlining. I will admit I have struggled a little with that, but I can also see the benefit. How well this works when I start writing will be further research into my writing practice. And will then determine how the following novel may start its life.

What have you done to increase your productivity that you didn’t think you would try? Hit reply and share your thoughts.

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Critical Friendships

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It can be difficult to look at your own writing objectively. Particularly if you are a new writer, it can be daunting to know if your work is at a standard where you can share it with the world.

This is where critical friends come into play and why they are important.

Critical friendships are good because…

  • Sharing gives a better perspective of what you are writing
  • Can pick up little mistakes
  • Can find the gaps
  • Tell you what is working or what isn’t
  • Can help when you are blocked
  • Give an alternative when you are stuck on which way to go
  • Help you to look at your writing more clearly
  • Support and friendship

Being a critical friend is also going help your writing as you learn to look for the above in other writers’ work you will only improve your own skills and understanding in what works and how it can be seen by readers.

 

Where to find critical friends

Facebook

I was recently asked to join a Facebook writing group. At this point we are sharing learnings and articles but I have had offers to read my work and I’m saving them up for when it counts.

There are so many opportunities on social media now to find groups of like minded people. I like Facebook but you may prefer Twitter or Google Plus or one of the many others,

 

Student groups and courses

My recent Masters course has been invaluable in improving my writing; for each unit I was a member of a small tutorial group and the critical friendships were great as members of the group came from various genre and backgrounds.

 

Writers groups

There are lots of opportunities for writers to get together. To find a group near you try your local writers centre.

 

What to look for in critical friends

  • People writing at a similar level to you.
  • Open and honest but fair.

Don’t be afraid to test out a group first – sit back and watch for a while and see how it operates then go from there.

Of the various groups I belong to I still have one critical friend who I value above all others. We have worked together for a long time, coming up to 10 years, and we write in similar genre although not in the same way. I love her writing and find her advice and critique of my writing both insightful and helpful.

Photo: Friends from Wikipedia Commons

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