The Three A’s of Isolation Motivation

Last week, I managed to sneak out a little time between one child explosion and the next to meet up over video call with the local chapter of my writing guild. There were only four of us on the call, but it was so nice to see other humans, let alone other writing humans.

We talked about how we were doing and what we’d been up to and how much or how little our lives had changed since the last meeting. And, of course, we talked about our writing projects.

I… haven’t been doing much. I’ve been slowly chipping away at the cookbook, but at this point, that involves more playing around in the kitchen than any actual writing. Another project of mine is in review right now and so I haven’t really been doing much on my end while I wait to hear back from the folks checking it over to make sure it’s right for the organization. And the rest of my freelance gigs have dried up as people realize maybe now is not the time to expand their now-closed-for-who-knows-how-long business. So for writing—real, true, and actual butt-in-chair writing—there really hasn’t been much. Normally, that wouldn’t slow me down, because fiction is way more fun than gig work anyway, but as it turns out, having constant human presence of the small and needy type saps most of my energy in general, let alone creative energy.

But nobody wants to admit that to the guild members! It looks so- so- so unprofessional. *writhes in pain* (We’re not even going to talk about how unprofessional it looked when, halfway through the meeting, there was a sudden crash and a yell and I went bounding out of the room, only to sprint back twenty seconds later with a rushed No-one’s-dead-but-I-gotta-go-bye. Aaaand then I missed the Leave Meeting button twice, with accompanying false start lunges for the door, before I managed to actually hit it and go. Yep. Totally pro.)

So I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how to get a little more writing in. (And no, for purposes of definition, blog writing in this case does not count. Boo.) I feel like I have to tread this ground again every time there’s a big shift in my life, whether that’s seasonal changes, major life events, employment status, mental or physical health belly flops, or, in this case, apocalyptic pandemics.

I should probably be grateful that this keeps coming up. It’s really hard to ever get in a rut if my entire life gets upended every three months. But on the other hand, it always seems like writing is the first thing to get pitched out the window whenever there’s a transition, and it’s sometimes weeks before I right myself again and get back on course.

We learned a little while ago that writing prompts are pretty hit-or-miss with getting me going again. So what can I count on to help me get back into writing? For me, at least this time around, it’s been important to make sure I have the Three A’s:

Attainable Goals This has been an important one for me lately. This Camp NaNo month’s attainable goal is eight thousand words. Jill-on-a-good-day finds this wildly, embarrassingly inadequate. But Jill-on-the-other-twenty-nine-days-of-the-month finds this just baaaarely doable. I am not at a point right now where I can crank out 2k a day, but that doesn’t mean I should throw my hands up and despair. Having attainable goals helps me to keep moving forward, even if those steps are small. All progress is good progress.

Actionable Plans Having a goal is fantastic but having an idea of how to achieve it is even better. 8k words for the month comes out to 267 words per day. If I can squeeze out my 267 a day, whether that’s when the kids are falling asleep or while they’re out at recess or, yes, while I’m sitting in the bathroom pretending to use the toilet (dignity has long since left the premises), then I can make my 8k. If I miss a day, then I call in reinforcements and beg my ever-patient husband to take the kids on a walk or something so I can play catch-up. Have a plan. Stick to it.

Accountability Buddies Speaking of ever-patient partners, have someone who knows your goals and your plans who will gently poke you with a cattle prod every now and then. Have more than one person. Heck, tell the entire internet. But if I have a goal that only exists in my head, it’s pretty easy to decide I’m too tired to work on it today, or I should probably do the dish mound instead, etc. Accountability buddies keep you going when you’d stop on your own. Get some.

Need some more A’s in your life? Here’s a bonus A: Art is not just writing. I like to beat myself up when I’m not hitting my writing goals, or when my goals are tiny and pathetic, but the truth is that any enjoyable creative endeavor helps me feel less like I want to whack my hand off with a meat cleaver and lie down in the shower to die. It might be cooking an elaborate meal. It might be dancing with my boys. It might be drawing complex geometric sharpie doodles on my arm. If it stimulates my brain as I create something beautiful, it is an art and it is good for me. Maybe I can’t write while the kids are tearing around the house screaming about their latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering achievement. But I can practice ukulele through that. And I sometimes have to accept that that is enough.

Sooo… I guess that makes Acceptance our fifth and final A, haha.

I hope you guys are hanging in there. Do what you can and have mercy for the rest. And if you can manage to squeeze it in, happy writing!

Obligatory 20-20 Vision Joke!

Happy New Year! We survived 2019! Good work, people!

Short post this week, but as I mentioned last week, last year was kind of a rough one with quite a few loose ends still mucking up the works. So I’m going to be scaling back my expectations for myself quite a bit in a vain effort to not go completely crazy. Other than that, this is probably all going to look pretty familiar.

Reading Goals Twenty-four books is probably my upper limit so we’ll stick with the attainable. I still want to split it twelve and twelve between fiction and nonfiction, but I’m going to give myself a pretty open range otherwise.

Writing and Editing Goals One first draft, one editing draft, and at least two new short stories. Again, we’re keeping things practical here. This is an area where I anticipate proooooobably overachieving a little bit (maybe?), but I’m wary of setting my sights any higher than this for now. We’ll see where it goes.

Rejections Goals We’re gonna scale waaaay back here and see if I can hit twenty-four rejections for the year. It’s half of what I set for myself last year, but still nearly double what I actually achieved. (Plus, I’m not sure at this point how much rejection my sad little soul can take.)

I have other personal goals (including talking to other humans and not treating my body like utter garbage) to augment my overall well-being and good-humanness, but this is all my writing stuff.

I spoke last week, and in other times past, about balance—and my lack thereof. I had a lot of trouble this last year with balancing work v. volunteer time, kid v. personal time, etc, and it seemed that the easy answer was always to draw off time that I had previously slated for the things that brought me peace and stability.

I wrote a few months ago about self care, and how I needed to get better at it. And for a while, I really did. I did all the things and I felt better for it. Huzzah!

But then the holidays. It was all an unrelenting marathon from Thanksgiving through New Year’s. Everything went to pieces. Next thing I knew, I was nearly ten pounds lighter, arguing with people about hand towels, and contemplating jumping off bridges.

Clearly this is a problem and steps are being taken.

Including the lightening of the goal load this year! If things straighten out and the stress level comes down, I might adjust my goals and amp up the effort a little bit more. We’ll see. But for now, I think this is more than enough. The base line has become Keep Everyone Alive. Anything more than that is icing.

How about you folks? Any writing resolutions this year? Are you scaling it back, or expanding operations? Let me know in the comments below!

And until next week, happy writing, and happy New Year!

Winding Down and Gearing Up

So, I mentioned it a few times throughout the last several months, but this has been a tough year as far as goal achievement goes. Now’s the moment you’ve been waiting for—just how badly did I flop on my face?

Well… it’s not great. Let’s do the numbers.

Reading Goals I had planned to read twenty-four books: half fiction, half nonfiction; at least six would be about experiences outside my own, and at least three would be Own Voices; and eight fiction from my genre, with four classics and four newbs. I didn’t quite make all that, but I got close-ish. I read twenty-four books, but half of them were not nonfiction. Eight were about experiences outside my own and five of them were Own Voices. Most of them were not from my genre, however. I read no classics, and only two in speculative fiction. Not bad, really, but not quite what I was aiming for.

Writing and Editing Goals I had planned to edit three drafts and write one first draft, as well as an unspecified number of short stories. I actually did… okay? ish? I did two quick and dirty edits on a pair of ugly first drafts (Box of Bones and A Cinder’s Tale) and wrote a first draft of another book in the Star Daughter series, an in-betweener focusing on one of the side characters that was kind of a pain to write. (Good side characters do not necessarily make good main characters.) I wrote a grand total of two short stories over the entire year, and honestly, that was probably pretty good, all things considered.

Rejections Goals Just like last year, I had planned to earn myself forty-eight rejections. Haha, yeah, that did not happen. Not even close. Remember back in August when I only had fifteen rejections? Yeah. It’s still fifteen. I completely checked out on that one.

But I have excuses! So, so many excuses. 😦

Writing Jobs I did quite a bit more freelancing this year than I have in years past, and that meant less time for my own writing. It’s success, in a way, although it doesn’t feed my soul as well as writing things that I love.

Animal Woes Between the staggering number of untimely poultry deaths we had this spring and summer, and the loss of our disgusting but strangely loveable dog Jasper, we had a lot of animal stresses to contend with in the early half of the year.

Multiple Medical Emergencies In addition to my own ongoing chronic health issues, I had family members with their own problems. My eight-year-old was attacked by a dog, and the lacerations became infected, which endangered his eye as well; it was several weeks before I didn’t feel the need to check his temperature and breathing throughout the night and he’ll bear those scars on his face the rest of his life. Stressful. Shortly thereafter, my husband hyperextended his knee and was unable to use his leg regularly for months, during which time he started having heart problems. He’s now seeing a cardiologist in an effort to not die. Also stressful.

Foster Care I mentioned this once before, but somehow in the midst of all our other madness, my family is currently fostering a very good kid dealing with some very heavy things. Just getting him to all his appointments throughout the week means at minimum four hours of phone time and five hours of out-and-about time, and he needs a lot of individual attention just to keep him from going to pieces at the drop of a hat (or a bagel). I knew foster kids took a lot of time/energy/attention, but holy Cheez Whiz, I had no idea.

All in all, it’s been a busy year. The animal woes have ceased (for now) and the medical emergencies have stabilized, but we’re still not sure about my husband’s health, and we’re still fostering. The timelines both of those adventures have big question marks at the end of them. With that in mind, I think that I need to lighten up on myself a bit for next year’s goals, which I will tell you all about next week. (You know, after I figure out what they are.) I have a lot going on, and it is all worthy of my attention.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a big proponent of writing daily, of having goals, of working hard to keep the writing career moving forward. I am in no way dropping this part of my life. But I cannot sacrifice the well-being of children for this. I can’t sacrifice supporting my husband. I can’t sacrifice my flock of birds to starve out in the cold. And so these last few months have been pretty detrimental to my writing stuff. I did all three sessions of NaNo (November and the two camp sessions) and have kept the blog updated, but have otherwise largely stopped writing work since last spring.

Guys, it is seriously crushing my soul. So I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out a new balance. I’m excited to share my conclusions with you next week. Thanks for sticking with me! Until next week, happy writing, and happy New Year to everyone on the Gregorian calendar! Whee!

Obey or Be Destroyed: A Guide to Bending Yourself to Your Will

Last week, I was chatting with some friends and lamenting my lack of progress on my latest edits for Blood and Ebony, my Snow White retelling. I had a self-imposed deadline for it that was coming up fast, but I wasn’t getting much closer to being done. I was frustrated with myself because I’m normally pretty good about making myself keep my own deadlines.

And then it hit me: the reason I wasn’t feeling any motivation on this project. I’d given myself a deadline, but I hadn’t affixed a punishment to it. I hadn’t assigned myself a consequence.

It can be hard sometimes to feel like a professional in this trade, especially if you’re not making a working wage and claiming tax exemptions and putting out a new book every two months. Any given project is less likely to make me a dollar than it is to make me yell at my kids because, oh my giddy aunt, how can they always tell when I’m trying to work and know the perfect way to ruin it? *clears throat* Anyway, if the rest of the world isn’t treating you like a professional, it can be hard to think of yourself that way as well. But that kind of thinking can easily nudge writing a little lower on the pecking order of what gets our time and attention and before you know it, you’ve blown half of your project time and aren’t any closer to your goal.

There are lots of ways to combat this struggle. For me, I respond unfortunately well to looming punishment. I assign myself terrible consequences and—here’s the important part—I follow through on them. I once confidently told my friends that I would have a story to them by a certain date and declared that I would run a mile for each day I was late. Yeah. I was eleven days late. I hauled my non-runner-rear down to the track and ran eleven miles in one go, fueled entirely by determination and high fructose corn syrup. It hurt so badly I worried I’d damaged something, and I was wincing and limping for days. But I haven’t missed a deadline since.

Now I’m not suggesting you immolate yourself in retribution for dropping the ball once in a while. (Seriously. Please don’t damage yourself.) But I am suggesting you find the things that motivate you. By leaning into the things that you love/hate, you can amp up the motivation to do a thing that maybe isn’t quiiiite as high on the to-do list as it should be all by itself.

So if this sounds like something that might help you hit those goals a little harder, here are a few ideas for coming up with your own system of rewards and/or punishments.

What is your goal?We’ve talked about making smart goals here before, but just for a very brief recap, make sure your goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time bound (aka- has a deadline). Maybe you want to finish an editing pass, or write a single chapter, or enter a short story in a contest. Knowing exactly what you want to do and how you’re going to do it is the first step. Always have a goal. (And when you attain it, make another one! Onward and upward!)

What do you love? These things make excellent rewards. Pick a thing that you really want, or that you really want to happen, that you won’t just go out and get/do for yourself regardless of whether you hit the goal. Just make sure that it fits the size of your goal. Promising yourself a vacation to the Caribbean every time you draft a new scene isn’t very sustainable.

What do you hate? These things make excellent punishments. Pick a thing you don’t want to happen, and that is an appropriate punishment for the crime, but is still mild enough that you’ll actually go through with it. Maybe do a hard workout, or pledge a small donation to a political party you despise, or go sing on karaoke night, or whatever you wouldn’t normally do. But if you won’t hold yourself to it, don’t assign it. Make yourself miserable, but not so miserable that you flake out.

What is a reasonable deadline? As Goldilocks would surely tell us, you don’t want a deadline that’s so ambitious that you have to stop feeding your dependents to achieve it, or so lame-sauce that you won’t have to worry about actually working on it until it’s time to retire. Instead, pick a deadline that’s juuuust right: challenging, but possible if you put in a balanced amount of work.

Who can help you stick to it? Not everyone needs this part. Some people have all the grit ‘n’ gumption they need to make it happen no matter who is or isn’t watching. But then again, not everybody can just will themselves to follow through with their rewards or punishments. If you’re one of those people, grab a buddy! Writing pals, parents, partners, whoever—let them know of your task, your deadline, and what they’re to pressure you into doing at the end of it all.

Once you answer these questions, bring all the elements together into A Plan. Your plan, and those looming consequences shadowing it, will give you that extra burst of motivation to hit that goal out of the park. I know it works for me every time.

After pinpointing my lack of consequences, and therefore lack of motivation, my friends stepped in to help. In short order, they had assigned me a nightmarish punishment (they will deprive me of my ancestral right to piri piri sauce and high quality olive oil and instead make me watch a musical—a musical, people *shudders*) and then—poof!—just like magic, I suddenly had all the motivation in the world.

Why Am I So Bad At Goals Whyyy

So this post was originally intended to be a halfway-into-the-year check in on my writing goals. Due to some scheduling issues, we’re a bit past the midpoint, but I’m doing it anyway. Because deadlines are for mortals, which is a response that probably will give you a lot of insight into the way my goals are going so far this year.

The short answer is that I’m doing awfully. At everything.

My reading goals were progressing beautifully until summer struck and then all bets were off. I didn’t read a single book over the entire summer that wasn’t for work, and it was difficult to squeeze even that much in. *claws at own face* I can’t live like this.

Giving myself more leeway on short story writing maaaay have been a mistake because I took that leeway as an excuse to do next to nothing. I have written two short stories so far this year. Two.

Editing is likewise a giant sinkhole so far this year. I just started editing Blood and Ebony about a week ago and have made it about halfway through the first chapter. And… that is all. Yikes. Zero down and three to go.

And I guess I started my one new draft of a novel, but realized about halfway in that it’s terrible and has some plot holes you could fly an Airbus A380 through and I have no interest in finishing it before the year is out. So… back to square one on that, I suppose.

My rejections goal for the year is currently sitting at fifteen of my forty-eight rejections, which is terrible in and of itself, but made exponentially more terrible by the fact that that is all. I have nothing more currently on submission right now that counts toward this goal. So unless I get my rear into gear, that number is going to stay at fifteen. At the beginning of the year, I had intended to have all the subs out that I needed for the entire year (plus a little extra under the assumption that some will be accepted) by the end of September, giving those rejections time to trickle in over the rest of the year. Yeah. Not happening. This goal is so far sitting at flaming-airplane-wreck-two-minutes-before-takeoff level of fail.

Soooo… yeah. That’s where I’m at.

But I have excuses. Do you wanna hear my excuses? Please?

My biggest excuse is that a few of those probable rejections turned out to be acceptances—and on pretty big projects, too. On top of my having normal day jobs, I’ve been working on these projects, steadily, daily, for about three months now and it’ll be at least another month before they’re all completed. It’s taking up nearly all of my free time.

Other excuses have been of the much less fun family emergency variety. Just this summer we had a string of chicken tragedies and three unique medical emergencies. (Unless we want to count each of my son’s complications as their own thing. Ah, dog bites. The emergency that keeps on emerging.) These things take time, and they also take brain power. I can’t work very effectively if I’m worried that my husband might need surgery (still a possibility) or that my son might lose an eye (off the table—whew!).

So, yeah. I’m still going to get myself as close to those goals as possible before the end of the year. I think I can catch up on the reading goal without too much fuss. Just two more short stories would put me above what I managed for last year, so that will have to be good enough. Editing might get trimmed back to just one book; if I really turn this thing around, maybe two. I’ll get about half of a first draft in November and try to finish the rest of it in December, so that one is still in the realm of possibility. But the rejections goal will definitely have to come down; I just won’t know exactly how much until I finish up these other projects. We’ll see.

All in all, I’m trying not to beat myself up too badly. I’m doing my best and I’m not just being lazy, so that’s a definite win in this game.

How about you fine readers? How are your literary endeavors going so far this year? Any wins to report? Any fails that could use some cheerleading? Let me know in the comments! And until next week, happy writing!

Reading with a Goal

GoalMy family doesn’t really need excuses to make fun of each other. But I left myself wide open for it when I mentioned my reading goal for the year to a brother- the goal in which I’m trying to read twenty-four books, at least half of which are nonfiction. He thought it was a little ridiculous to even keep track of my reading like that, let alone to have goals for what I’m reading and how much. Didn’t I graduate like a zillion years ago?

Of course, I didn’t respond with my reasons for such a goal. I insulted him instead. This is family secret code for: “You are wrong, but I love you anyway.” As the conversation progressed, he conceded that probably anything that involved reading was a good idea and we chatted about good books we’d read lately. Mockery is just our knee-jerk reaction to everything, even when we agree.

But I don’t think he was alone in his initial reaction- seriously, why would someone want to keep track of their reading? Especially someone who does a lot of reading anyway? (Which, in America, apparently means like more than four books a year. *weeps for my people*) Well, hypothetical naysayer, let me tell you!

For any of this to make sense, I’m going to have to delve into specifics. In the New Year post, I stated that I wanted to read twenty-four books, at least half of which were nonfiction. But there’s a bit more to it than that. (Nobody likes dweebs, but bear with me here.)

For nonfiction, I give myself a pretty free hand to read whatever I want, which usually ends up being a lot of history, foreign culture, and science, although I do like to lob some linguistics and anything to do with corpses in there for fun. All well and good.

My fiction goals get a little more finicky. Of course, I let myself read a book if I really really want to. I mean, I work in a library. I would go bonkers if I didn’t grant myself some leeway. But of the twelve fiction books I hope to read this year, at least eight of them will be in genres I am actively writing in. Of those eight, four will be classics- the books everyone has heard of and loves, the sort of books that show up in college courses about this genre- and four will be published within the last five years. At least three of the twelve books will be Own Voices (but ideally it would be more like six or up), and at least six of those twelve books will highlight a group or culture beyond my own (Christian, non-disabled, white, female, etc); ideally the Own Voices three-or-more and the not-about-me six line up, but I’m giving myself a little leeway and here is why:

While I definitely support Own Voices and better representation in stories, it gets a little blurrier when it comes to a person’s gender, sexuality, beliefs, and maybe some other categories too. I don’t feel like it’s any of my business to try to figure out whether the author is or is not a part of whatever marginalized group they’re writing about to see if a story is Own Voices or not because, while I absolutely want to get in a character’s head, that’s pretty private business when it comes to the author. If I’m not comfortable asking a person these questions face to face, and wouldn’t be comfortable with someone asking me, I don’t really feel right internet stalking someone to try and find out. If it’s super out in the open, I’ll probably come across it and chalk it up as Own Voices, but I’m generally not going to go digging for that information. That said, I’m still figuring these waters out and would love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!

Okay, so: twelve nonfiction; eight fiction in my genre (four classics, four newbs); six diverse fiction (minimum three Own Voices); and a little wiggle room because I have low impulse control. I chose these proportions carefully. I would be super duper happy to just read any old thing, but I’ve ordered my reading this way in the hopes of fostering my own writing and broadening my understanding of the human family and the world in which we live.

The reading within genre obviously has benefits for my writing. But so does the nonfiction. I get tons of writing ideas from reading nonfiction. Plus they’re just fun! And sparking my curiosity in one aspect of my life always feeds it in other aspects; any creative act- playing music, building, crafting, cooking- has been shown to foster creativity in other aspects of life as well. And reading outside of my socioeconomic group not only fuels my creativity and human empathy, but also helps me to write those characters more realistically as well.

Really, I could probably do any reading at all and it would be good for my own writing (as well as my soul) in some way. But by choosing what I read more thoughtfully, I can not just have fun, but improve myself and my writing too. Fun!

And if my doofus brother can’t see that, then too bad for him. 😛

Happy 2019!

resolutions*flings confetti* Wahoo!

Another year down and I haven’t managed to overdose on lemon sandwich cookies and kimchi brine yet! *fist pumps* Man, 2018 had a lot of madness and utter rubbish, but here we are with another shiny new year. Let’s not screw this one up, guys!

All things considered, last year wasn’t too embarrassing as far as resolutions go. I got pretty lazy on my health goals, but that’s somewhat to be expected, given how lowly I prioritize my own well being. (Stop that, Jill.) But other than that, things weren’t too shabby.

Numbers-wise, I hit my reading goal, and with a couple extra books besides; I even hit the stipulation that half of them be nonfiction! I did write up two new first drafts (Copper and Box of Bones) but only managed to edit one first draft into a second (Sacrifice); but I knew from about October onward that this would be the case, so I’m trying not to beat myself up about it too much. (Because man have I got excuses for the tail end of this year.) Sadly, I totally faceflopped on my goal to write twelve short stories by writing a grand total of three. *sad trombone* But in a shocking turn of events on the last day of the year, I actually hit the rejections goal! *soccer stadium cheer* I even managed one extra rejection (yay?) for a total of forty-nine.

Honestly, for my writing stuff, I think I’ve about maxed out my productivity in my current stage of life. So I’m pretty much just setting a repeat on last year’s reading, writing, and publishing goals, with just a few minor adjustments.

Once more, I’d like to read twenty-four books, with half of them being nonfiction. This year, I’m planning on leaning a little more heavily toward the editing side of things since I have about a million first drafts lurking around my hard drive; I hope to edit three ugly early drafts (probably Blood and Ebony, Quicksilver Queen, and A Cinder’s Tale, but I’m flexible) and to write one first draft of something new over the course of the three NaNo sessions. I’m also reining back on the short story drafting, just letting those evolve on an as-needed basis without a specific goal in mind. And I’m sticking with my forty-eight rejections for the year goal because, augh it hurts, but it seems to be working for me.

So that’s it! I’ve broken each of these goals down into quarterly, monthly, and daily goals to help keep me ticking along a little more smoothly (and maybe eliminate the need for New Year’s Eve miracles, haha). So I have a plan. Let’s see how badly I wreck it!

How about you guys? Any big writing resolutions? Or little ones? Let me know- I’d love to chat! Happy New Year and happy writing!