Calendaring for the Win

CalendarThis has been an off summer for me. Some of that was beyond my control, but enough of it is my own fault that I’ve become too disgusted with myself to continue like this.

As long time readers know, I do best when I’m organized. Check boxes are my friend. To do lists are my friend. Calendars are my friend. And yet, I realized just a few days ago that I’d let all those things slide. I wasn’t making a morning list. I hadn’t drawn an empty box in months. My desktop calendar was still on May.

With growing horror, I looked up at my submissions goal list, taped like an accusation on the wall over my desk. I was behind. Crazy behind. Where-I-should-have-been-in-March behind.

I have attention problems. If I don’t follow a routine, I’m led about by whatever shiny fun-o-matic catches my eye. And I haven’t been following my own tried-and-true writing routines for months. This is why coming up with blog posts has been such a slog. This is why last month’s NaNo was such a painful agony. This is why I have been spending well less than half my daily writing time actually writing. This is why I haven’t edited a single short story, let alone a novel, since last spring. I know what I have to do to keep on my writing goals. But I haven’t been doing those things.

Clearly, it’s time for some better housekeeping. I need quantifiable goals, and I need a finite deadline, and I need a plan for how those two meet. So this week, I sat down and carved out what needs to happen in the following months.

Reassess Goals I still have the goal of forty-eight rejections for the year; I now have less than half the time in which to do it, because if I want the rejections back by the end of the year, I should send them out a good twelve weeks before the end. So instead of a steady rate of six-ish submissions a month, I need to get out the remaining thirty-five submissions for the rest of the year by the end of September, assuming every single one of them is a rejection. I honestly don’t think that’s attainable, but if I can get out twenty-five submissions by the end of September, I’ll be pretty pleased with myself and hustle the last few out (maybe) before NaNoWriMo.

I also have the goals of two new first drafts and two second drafts. I did manage a first draft of Copper, and I started editing Seasong/Sacrifice/Whatever the Heck I’m Calling This Mermaid Thing, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I think sticking with the original goal is a little untenable at this point, especially given how much work I’ll have to put into submissions, so I’ll drop one of the editing goals and shoot for finishing a second draft of the mermaid story and drafting one more new story during NaNo. Maybe I’ll surprise myself and squeeze in that second second draft, but I’ll owe myself a box of cookies or something if I pull that off.

Set Exciting New Goals I have my annual AWG writing conference coming up in mid-September. Even though I’m preeeetty sure I’m not going to find an agent who wants to sit down with me for an hour and go over a five-page document, I would like to prepare a list of blurbs for all my novels with at least a complete first draft- bonus points for the nearly-done partial first drafts as well. I’ll need to finish by the time I leave for the conference, giving me not quite four weeks to come up with five more blurbs and to clean up the eight I already have. Totally do-able.

I also want to work up a blog schedule for the remainder of the year within the next two weeks, with titles and themes for each post- extra points for notes or first/partial drafts. The blog just feels less crazy and stressful (and stupid) when I’m prepared well in advance. Future Jill will thank me.

Streamline Writing Time I have gotten incredibly lazy about this, and this is probably the root of all my writing evils. Writing time is not the time to be playing games, and trawling the bowels of Twitter, and catching up on blogs and articles, and conducting ‘research’ because, gosh, a story with singularity bombs and human augmentation and ticklish lab rats would be really cool. Reading about writing is not writing. Writing is writing. So starting now, writing time is nine to ten-thirty. From nine to ten-thirty, I will only write, even if it means spewing stream of consciousness into the void for an hour and a half. If I have made good progress for the first hour, I can choose to spend the last half hour working on submissions or blog stuff, but for no more than two hours total in a single week. Any more than that will have to happen outside of writing time. In three weeks, I will reassess the situation.

Summon the Kraken Accountabuddies Along with calendaring and, oh I don’t know, goals, another thing I’ve let slide is frequent check ins with my accountability buddies. Summer is a busy time and it’s become hard for all of us to get together for our weekly internet write-ins. (And one of them decided to go and get married this weekend. Geez, so selfish.) But that doesn’t mean I can’t check in with them every now and then on my progress. I mean, we’re friends. It’s not like they’d see my name on their phone screens and roll their eyes to Heaven. (Right, guys? Right?) So I will drop a line or two in Google Chat or text or whatever at least once a week about writing. That is all. It’s easy so, like cleaning my writing time, I shall start this immediately.

*dusts hands together* Voila! A plan! I don’t know how achievable it is. I think the submissions thing is going to kick my butt, if nothing else. But this at least makes it possible, instead of just a looming nightmare cloud hanging over my head. And whether I hit my goals or not, I’m going to keep up with my calendaring, my listing, my check-boxing. They’re my best shot for getting anywhere in all this so I’m only cheating myself if I give them up. (Sorry, Future Jill. [Past Jill, you suck.])

I hope you guys are keeping up with your writing goals for the year so far! Until next time, keep your heads in the clouds and your feet on the ground! Happy writing!

Happy Blogiversary!

Whew! Four years, guys!  Thanks for sticking it out with me!

In celebration, I made you a nifty coloring sheet.  (Apologies in advance for the wonky dimensions.  I never think about these things when I start a project, augh.)  I plan to color this and print it out as a poster for hubby’s classroom, (The original is hugenormous.) so you’ll probably see a color version up eventually.  In the meantime, feel free to print it out, color it, stick it on your bathroom mirror, but respect the copyright, man.

Happy blogiversary! Wahoo!


How I Blog, Pt. 2: Drafting, Brainstorming


D’awwww. Mommy’s sleepy li’l man-eater…

Look at all the pretties!  As you can see, I’ve made a few changes to the site: mostly superficial, but hopefully nice to look at.  If you have any other ideas for improvements, please, please, please let me know!

In the meantime, on with part two of my blogging system.  (If you missed last week, you can find part one here!)  Last week, I talked about how I do my scheduling.  But what is a schedule without the drafts and the ideas to back it up?

The Drafts

Directly following the schedule, I have the drafts, each separated by double-spacing and an all-caps title.  The drafts come in all degrees of doneness, from a rough outline, to just an introductory paragraph, to a final draft ready to be posted.  I have them written out chronologically, with the top of the queue at the top of the page.  It makes it easier for me to tell at a glance how much more work I need to do before posting, and how soon that work needs to be done.

When it’s not a NaNo month (because NaNo months are lazy months), I try to have first drafts done a week before posting, and final drafts done the day before posting.  That way, I have a bit of a buffer if something happens and I can’t write, or if the schedule needs to change with little notice.  It doesn’t always happen that way, but it’s way less hectic for me when it does.

There are usually two to four active drafts in this section.  Some sit there for weeks or even months before I’m satisfied with them.  After a draft is finally posted, I delete it from the document to clear room for a new draft.

The Notes


Down at the bottom of the document, I have the notes.  These are the ideas that are too ugly and vague and newborn to even have a scheduled slot yet.  This is the area I come to when I am scheduling a new quarter.

Filling It-

But how do you generate a robust notes section?

Any way you can.  Whatever gets your brain ticking, do those things.  I try to do my brainstorming- both for fiction and for blogging, depending on the mood- when I’m doing otherwise brainless tasks.  Washing dishes, chopping veggies, folding laundry, exercising, showering, etc…  We all have chores we have to do that don’t take too much thought; use that time to think about other things.  Keep track of interesting dreams, weird happenings at the supermarket, funny scenarios in the police blotter, whatever.  And whenever possible, have the means to write those ideas down immediately.

Another tactic to keep in mind: other writers probably have a lot of the same questions you do.  Quite a few of my blog posts have come about because I had questions- about craft, about querying, about social media- and spent a lot of time finding answers.  Why not write a blog post about those answers?

Whenever you attend writing events- critique groups, conferences, writing guild meetings, book signings, etc- take a some paper with you.  Jot down notes throughout the event, and then take the time to talk to the presenter(s) afterward.  Get permission to write up a blog post, and then ask other questions that may have been left unanswered.  You suddenly have not only a write up of the event, but also an exclusive scoop.  Similarly, think of field experts you can interview.  Other writers you know?  Book shop owners?  Reviewers?  Acquisitions librarians? Writing teachers at your local schools or universities?  Come up with as many as you can before you even start to think about feasibility.

You can also look into what other bloggers are writing about.  If someone you follow had an article about diversity that got you thinking, why not write a blog post about your thoughts?  If you read another blog that got tons of great comments and you know people are interested, why not write your own take on the same topic?

Whenever I get a new idea, no matter how stupid, I write it down.  Truly stupid ideas can always be erased later (Alas, Brandon Sanderson probably won’t grant me an interview just because we both write and are Mormon); but I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to delete an idea only to stop, and tweak it, and suddenly have something I can work with.  Never decide an idea is too bad to work the moment you have it.  Sometimes those ideas just have to stew a while until you can find a better angle.  Write everything down, and keep it all in one spot.

Using It-

When it’s time to schedule another quarter, I first skim through the archived schedule to get a good idea for what I’ve already written recently, and to maybe get a sense of any gaps in the topics I’ve covered.  Then I come to the notes section and start stewing.  I cut/paste the workable ideas from the notes section into the new schedule, again with more refined ideas toward the top and less refined toward the bottom.

After I pull out all the good stuff, I am left with a stinking heap of terrible ideas in the notes section.  I do not delete any of them.  A bad idea will sit in my notes section for nine to twelve months before I let it go, sometimes longer.  But I never delete them in batches, and never after a scheduling session.

The notes section is only useful if it is full and active.  Constantly add fresh ideas, constantly tweak old ideas.  Nearly everything I write about on this blog spends some amount of time in the notes section.  It’s like the slush pile for my blog, but I work really hard to make sure it’s all useable eventually.


And that’s about it!  The ideas support the schedule supports the drafts, and it all comes together once a week on the blog.  I think blogging makes me a better writer for two reasons: it forces me to constantly come up with new ideas; and it forces me to constantly write new material.  I don’t usually have a schedule for my fiction and it’s easy to let that fall to the wayside.  Blogging ensures that I don’t ever step completely away from writing.

So for those of you who blog, what do you do to keep yourself on track?  What’s your blogging system?

How I Blog, Pt. 1: Scheduling

Mayday, mayday!  *airplane crashes horribly* *pilot parachutes to safety*

ScheduleWhew!  I was waaaay off with my word count goal, but I was spot on with my goal of finishing three novel endings and having a little spare time to pick away at a fourth.  I wrapped up drafts for a Sherlockian fantasy steampunk thing, and two epic fantasies, and had just a few days left at the end to plow forward on a contemporary romance.

It’s a beautiful feeling, finishing up another draft.  I feel like I never have enough time to write up all the story ideas that I have.  Even when I do get around to finishing some, I always have more ideas crowding in behind them.

Boy, do I wish that was the problem with blog ideas.

Beyond just producing great stories, writers these days are expected to maintain an online presence as well.  For many of us, this includes blogging.  While I hesitated at first to take time away from writing, I’ve learned to embrace blogging, and it’s been about two years since I missed a weekly update.  This is in no way because I am a superior blogger.  I blame it entirely on having found a system that works for me.

In the past, posts were thrown up haphazardly- random and ugly and panicky things flung onto the internet simply because it was a Monday.  I’d start thinking about it Saturday night, be in a panic Sunday morning, and then scramble the rest of the day for ideas, only to dash something out right before I collapsed into bed.

Thank goodness, I found a better way.  By approaching blogging in a consistent, thoughtful manner, I’ve found that it’s easier and more enjoyable for me to produce posts that are either meaningful, helpful, or entertaining- heck, sometimes even all three!  Without further ado, I part the curtains and give you: my blogging system.

It all comes down to a single Word document on my desktop.  This is where I write down everything to do with my blog.  I like to keep everything in one place, even if the document does get a little messy and is like twenty pages long.  This makes it easier for me to keep track of everything, for I am a forgetful lass.  (Exception: Drawn comics are in a separate folder, but they are scheduled and outlined/drafted here like everything else.)

The document itself is broken into three sections: schedule, drafts, and notes.  Since this is such a big topic, I’ll write about the schedule this week, and then I’ll cover drafts and notes next week.


The Schedule

At the top of the document is the posting schedule.  This is the first thing I see every time I open this file, and I keep it arranged so that I can tell at a glance where it needs the most work, and whether any giant work sinks are looming toward the top.

The schedule itself is a three-column table with a dates column, titles column, and done column.  (The ‘done’ one isn’t really necessary, but as mention in previous posts, I am a checkmark hound.  Seriously, whatever stupid little things it takes to keep you motivated, don’t be ashamed.)

It’s a rolling schedule that typically covers about six months total, with posts from previous quarters getting archived at the very end of the document.  The date for each Monday within that six month span is listed, and the rest fluxes between being all filled out, and being a little naked.  Some of those weeks are already past, but most are still waiting to happen.   The table has space for a bare minimum of two months out from the current date, although I prefer three or four.  This gives me time to fill the schedule in before those Mondays rolls around.

I typically schedule my posts quarterly, usually in a brainstorming blitz a month before each quarter begins.  I don’t always know exactly what will fill each slot, but I always have at least ideas for each week.  The vaguer the concept is, the more ideas I put in.  For example, if I know exactly what I want to write about, I write a capitalized title.  If I don’t know, I jot down a few ideas, separated by an all caps OR.  Flagging them like this lets me know at a glance what I can jot out quickly and what needs more thought.  The vaguer ones go later in the schedule so I have more time to refine them as I get closer.  The more solid ones fill the top.

And then there are NaNo months.  You all know how spotty those can get.  I typically plan those to have two reblogs, one painfully stupid comic, and one sample chapter or comic, depending on how embarrassing it would be to put up ugly draft chapters.  NaNo months are really, really lazy, as far as blogging goes.  But I know that’s what I need for those months, and I plan for it.  Giving myself permission to be lazy every now and then keeps this blogging business from sucking too much creative energy from my fiction, which is my one true love.

This schedule shifts around constantly.  (I think I’ve tweaked it eight or nine times just since I started drafting this post.)  The only time it stops changing is when that week has passed.  Allowing the schedule to shift grants me the freedom to write about the things that interest me in that moment, and to move ideas further back if they just aren’t coming together.  If I forced myself to write about things that I didn’t care about, I’m pretty sure writer and readers alike would be bored to the point of quitting.


Speaking of quitting, that’s it for this week (because this post would be waaaay too long otherwise), but tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of How I Blog!  Until then, happy writing!

Writer’s Conscience (and an Announcement!)

Sorry we’re up a bit late today. (And what a day! Hardly nine in the morning and I’ve been super busy- no spoilers for now, but more on that later.)

I have a pair of quick announcements for you!

Since Pitch Party was so popular, I thought it might be fun to try a similar fête from a different angle: Bio Bash! Although arguably less important than a pitch, your author bio can nevertheless take a query letter from interesting to I’ve-gotta-get-this-person-on-the-phone lickety split! But for me at least, bios are probably harder to writer than the pitch- probably because I can’t just make things up and bragging feels so… blech. So get your friends to help you brag effectively! Like the original Pitch Party, Bio Bash will have a short version and a long. Short versions take place on twitter (Date and time TBA shortly), and long versions will be posted here on the blog by February 16th. All participants will help critique one another’s bios, with happy happy postcards sent out for the best short bio, best long bio, and most helpful critiques. Come join the fun and spiff up your query letter!

Any fellow writing bloggers, this one’s for you! I’m putting together a collaboration/idea-generator/get-to-know-each-other’s-blogs/get-more-people-to-your-own-blog thing that can be found here. If you’re interested in participating, dust off the archives and find your most popular post (or posts- the more the merrier!) to share.