At this point, you’ve celebrated your accomplishments from last year and have made a list of balanced, attainable goals/resolutions/intentions/wishes for 2015. (Right? If not, there’s still time. After all, Tip #3 is Ignore the Calendar.)
Tip #8 = Share Carefully
In life, there’s a fine line between sharing too much and sharing too little and I’m usually on the TMI side of it. I’ve learned the hard way that sharing my resolutions with everybody is a bad idea. After all, it’s possible that you won’t accomplish all of your goals this year, especially if you end up accomplishing new things that you didn’t even set out to do. It happens, and being flexible is okay. But it’s hard to remember that when people keep asking you about x and you’ve already moved on to y. It can lead to some awkward conversations. So remember that it’s okay to keep some things to yourself.
Then again, if you don’t share your resolutions with anybody, it becomes pretty easy to pretend they don’t exist, and that’s not good either. You need to have someone in your life who asks how things are going once in a while and helps keep you accountable.
My advice is share, but share carefully. The exact formula is up to you, but I like to share all my resolutions with one person (my husband gets to be the lucky recipient of the full list) and I choose a few select goals to share with the world. (Click here to see the ones I shared last year. I get three checks and a check-minus for that list. Not too shabby.)
Here are the resolutions I want everybody to know about for 2015:
* I will complete my first poetry manuscript and submit it to a contest.
* I will read at least 50 books. Some of the titles on my must-read list are:
– The Shining by Stephen King
– The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
– Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
– Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
– Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural, edited by Marvin Kaye
(I’ve been picking my way through this anthology for a couple of years now. It’s time to finish it.)
* I will participate in the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in May. (Note: This does not say I will “go” to the convention. I’m already going. I’ve got tickets and plane reservations and a hotel room and a posse of two writer friends to travel with. It’s a done deal. My resolution is to participate. When you fly across the country to hang out with other lovers of horror, that’s no time to be shy. I plan to be present every second of the weekend and soak up as much inspiration as possible.)
* I will continue to monitor my use of have to, need to, and want to. (<– This is the best resolution I’ve ever made, and I make it again every year. Read about how it started here.)
Feel free to check in now and then and ask me how things are going. And if you have a resolution you want to share with the world, post it in the comments below!
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NOTE: This blog turns one year old this weekend! To celebrate, I updated the About page and added a FAQ tab. Head over there to find out if you’ve been pronouncing my last name correctly in your head. Chances are, you haven’t. 🙂
To Resolve or Not to Resolve, That is the Question
It’s that time of year again, the time of looking ahead, writing lists, setting goals, making resolutions. At least for some people. For others, the mere mention of the R word brings them stress.
If you’re one of those reluctant resolvers, jaded from past experiences, you should know you’re not alone. The fear of not being able to put a checkmark next to each goal at the end of the year keeps many people from making a list at all.
But, despite the possibility of disappointment, I still say resolve. Setting goals and working toward positive changes in your life and your work is good for you. Just do it in a way that allows for success without setting yourself up for failure. Here are some things that have worked for me.
Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions
1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments
Before you make plans for 2015, take some time to celebrate the good stuff from this year. Whether you made resolutions for 2014 or not, make a list of 10 things you accomplished during the year. Then go look at your goals (if you had any) and compare. Even if there aren’t many checkmarks on the initial list, you now have a new one to be proud of. Keep it next to the one you make for the new year.
If you’ve had bad experiences in your past with New Year’s resolutions, then it’s possible the word itself makes your skin crawl. So don’t use it. Set goals instead. Or intentions. Or plans. Or wishes even. That’s not exactly the same thing, but who cares? Think about how psyched you’ll be at the end of 2015 if you can tell people that some of your wishes came true this year. Pretty cool, right?
3. Ignore the Calendar
There is no day of the year with more pressure on its poor shoulders than December 31st. Think about it: Christmas was just a few days ago and you’re still full of pecan pie and gingerbread cookies, so you’re trying to function through a sugar haze. It’s possible you’ve been traveling and have just arrived home to an empty fridge and a full laundry basket. Or maybe you’re still on vacation and just now realizing that you didn’t pack enough underwear. If you’re young and single, December 31st means figuring out which party to go to, determining what to wear, and wondering whom you might kiss. If you’re not so young and married like me, it means figuring out what movie to watch on Netflix, determining exactly how many minutes you have to stay up after midnight before you can go to bed, and wondering if it’s okay to put on your pjs before the ball drops in New York. And somewhere in this champagne-addled state, you’re supposed to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions.
It’s just too much.
So forget it. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve. Drink champagne and kiss people and watch bad movies and fall asleep on the couch and be merry and stay safe. The resolutions can wait. Make them whenever you want. There’s not really an expiration date. For a few years in a row I found January 8th to be an auspicious day for goal-setting. Last year I went traditional and made my list on the first, but then I added a few more things on the twelfth and lightning didn’t strike me down or anything. So take your time. It’s okay.
4. Stack the Deck in Your Favor
You may not accomplish all of your goals. It’s true, and it’s something you should accept from the start. If it happens, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just that you need more time or more practice or a more appropriate objective. But you can give yourself a better chance of succeeding by making your goals attainable.
For instance, if you’re a writer, don’t resolve to publish a certain number of poems or stories. That’s not really something you have control over. Instead, resolve to submit a certain number. That keeps the reins in your hands.
5. Balance the Scales
Let your resolutions (or intentions or wishes) reflect all aspects of your life. Don’t just set goals about your health or your work or your relationship. Your life is a combination of all of those things and more. If you’re a writer and your goal list is full of nothing but drafts and pages and submissions, then there’s a good chance that every time you do anything else, you’re going to feel guilty about it. Then again, if your resolutions are full of places you want to travel and exotic foods you want to eat, you may be setting yourself up for an unproductive year. Find a balance in your to-do list so that no matter what aspect of your life you’re focusing on at the moment, you can still be working toward your goals.
6. Give Yourself Some Space
Some people keep their resolutions in plain sight—on the fridge or over their workspace—as a constant reminder of their priorities. I do not. I don’t like my goals staring me in the face every day, making me feel guilty about taking a nap or checking Facebook. I need a little distance between my list and my life. But not too much. Sticking your resolutions on a shelf and ignoring them until next December won’t work either. I suggest keeping them at arm’s reach, literally. Mine are in a closed journal on my desk, so they’re not glaring at me when I first walk in the room, but they’re close enough for me to reach over and check on them anytime I want. They’re out of sight, but not out of mind.
7. Embrace the Present Moment
During all the looking forward and looking back that happens at this time of year, don’t forget to stop once in a while and just look around you. What are you doing? Who are you with? How do you feel?
Right now, it’s 11:45pm on December 30th. I’m drinking a cup of decaf coffee out of my new Christmas mug and listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” while I type this blog post at my desk. My blinds are open despite the late hour and I can see the colored lights on the bushes outside, swaying slightly in the cold wind. My cat is taking a bath on the bed behind me and I know that any minute now he’s going to jump in my lap and try to edit what I’m writing. I just heard my husband sneeze. This is my present moment. No matter what I accomplished this year, no matter what might happen when I change the calendar to January, right now I’m at home and I’m writing and I’m happy.
What’s happening right now is just as important as anything on your list. After all, those goals won’t accomplish themselves. In order to earn some checkmarks at the end of the year, you’re going to have to spend some of your present moments working toward them. You can do it.
The title of today’s post comes from one of my favorite moments in…
[If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch this two-minute clip on YouTube. If you like stop motion animation or motorcycle sidecar humor or sheep, you won’t be disappointed.]
To be writers, we must be creative, imaginative, artistic, and open to the clutter and chaos of our minds. However, to be successful writers, we must also be organized.
Fortunately, organization is one of my strong suits. Keeping things in order has served me well in my teaching life, my home life, and my writing life. So, if your creative process is starting to resemble a messy sock drawer (*shudder*) or a kitchen pantry with absolutely no thoughtful purposing of the shelf space (*double shudder*) or the master closet in my husband’s house before I moved in (*oh the horror!*) then I hope these tips can help you reign in the madness just a little bit.
Tip #5: Set Up a System
Some people simply want to write “when the mood strikes.” They think structuring their writing time into a schedule will take away the passion of their art and mess with their muse. That format works so long as things are going well and the words are flowing, but eventually your muse is going to call in sick or skip down to visit her mom in Florida or read a book about organic gardening and suddenly decide THAT’S what she wants to do with her life. (Muses are fickle little creatures.) If you want writing to be more than just a hobby, then you’re going to have to produce work even when your muse is babbling on about soil pH to the woman giving her a pedicure in Tampa.
On the flip side, a lot of authors say that you should have a regular routine where you write at the same time every day. (I can’t say those words without picturing a drill sergeant with a scowl.) It’s a great idea, and I’ve tried to make it work, but I just can’t. Too many other variables get in the way. Some mornings I have yoga. Some afternoons I attend Meet-Ups. Some weekends I have book club. Some nights my husband and I eat popcorn with the dog and watch Game of Thrones. There are not four consecutive hours in every day of the week that are free to write, and none of those other activities are negotiable. Each one (exercise, networking, talking about books, relaxing family time) are all integral to me being a happy, healthy writer.
So instead of a daily routine, I set up a weekly one. I keep my weekly schedule on a bulletin board by my desk. The items are made up of color-coded sticky tabs, which make it easy for me to switch things up. I redo my schedule about every two months because… A) Life obligations and class schedules change. (When the weather gets hot, I like to swim, so my routine is affected by pool hours.) And B) It’s just nice to mix things up. I’m great about following plans and schedules until they become old hat. Then I need something new to get me going again. Changing things up every few weeks gives me new energy and motivation.
Rather than show you my whole weekly schedule (I like you people, but I don’t exactly want you to know where I am every second of every day) I’ll just give you a couple of the writing-related highlights.
Sundays = Goal-setting. I come up with three or four specific, high-priority, achievable goals for the week. I post them in my office and email them to my critique group friends so they can help keep me on task.
Thursdays = Get out of the house. I meet a friend at a coffee shop to work. We generally stay from about 10:00 to 2:00. Since that’s a long time for me to focus on one task, I come prepared with more than one item on my to-do list. I might finish a chapter or draft a blog post, then move on to critiquing a colleague’s work or reading a Writer’s Digest article.
Fridays = Save & Assess. Every Friday, I back up all of my files. (I use Dropbox to do this, but there are other options too.) I used to be really bad about remembering to back up my work, but now that it’s “on the schedule” it gets done. Then I look back at my weekly goals and assess my progress. If I’m almost done, I get to finish up and spend the afternoon doing something fun. If not, it’s back to work. (Note: It’s usually back to work.)
This schedule is not set in stone. (As I mentioned before, it’s in sticky tab form.) While it gives me a solid framework for my week, it still leaves plenty of wiggle room for when my muse waltzes back in the door like nothing’s happened and plops herself down in my desk chair with a smile.
Every writer’s system is going to look different. Your schedule may be limited by a full time job or kids or both, but you should try to get the most out of however much (or however little) time you have to write.
If nothing else, set aside a time each week to ask yourself the following questions:
What are my goals?
Which goal is my top priority?
What’s my deadline for accomplishing this goal?
What’s the first step to meeting that deadline?
How long has it been since I backed up my work?
The time it takes to answer these five questions will be time well spent. Then you can build the rest of your writing week from there.
Tip #6: Document Thyself
Setting up a daily or weekly schedule is about the BIG picture: setting goals, making time to write, getting things done. If you do it right, you’ll soon be doing just that—producing. And once you start producing, you’ll start submitting your work to the world.
Next comes the nitty-gritty side of staying organized. You have to keep track of what you submit and where and to whom. How will you know if it’s time to start biting your fingernails over those contest results if you don’t know when the contest ends? How embarrassing would it be to accidentally send the same poem to a journal twice because you forgot they already read it (and rejected it) before? Keeping a log of all your submissions will help avoid these blunders.
I use Excel files. I create one for each year of submissions, then I have a separate file for all of my published work and awards.
Here’s a sample of what my submission tracker looks like. All of the information on this one is fake, but you probably figured that out already.
Note: SS stands for simultaneous submission. Some publishers don’t mind, but most of them want an exclusive look at your stories and poems.
Here’s a downloadable copy. Feel free to use this format to make your own.
Here’s how I format my publications and awards file. This information is real, but not complete. To see more of my published work, click here.
Note: It’s nice to have all of this information in one place when I am writing a bio or acknowledging the original publication of a piece I’m submitting to an anthology.
The first time I went to Annie Neugebauer’s website and clicked on The Organized Writer, I knew I’d found an organizational soul mate. She has a nifty little document for everything. No way are there any messy sock drawers or embarrassing junk closets in this woman’s home. No. Way. I suggest you spend some time perusing her offerings. She’s done all the hard parts for you!
Recently I decided it was time to seek an agent for my picture books. (You didn’t know I also write picture books? I do! I’m currently seeking representation for The Evolution of a Bark, where a simple dog bark evolves into a hilarious scene that’s entertaining for young readers and educational for middle grade students.) This being a new endeavor for me, I needed some guidance, so I modified Annie’s Agent Query Prep-work Chart into my own tool. Here’s a sample of mine (with some creative editing to protect identities).
Note: MSS stands for manuscript. You may notice that most agents requested the full manuscript of my book. That is only because it’s a picture book. When it comes to novels, most agents want either a query only or a query and the first ten pages. Then again, some ask for three chapters and others only want a synopsis. That’s why these files are so important. It’s a lot of information to keep up with.
Staying organized is a job in itself, and it can be a difficult one at first, but once you get your system up and running and your files in order, the benefits are apparent and the maintenance doesn’t take up much time. And it’s not like you have to always be tidy. Anne Lamott says, “Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground.” Once in a while, it’s okay to lose yourself in a glorious mess.