Is It Over Yet?

Whew, we made it! Happy New Year!

First off, you’ll be pleased to know that last year’s baseline of Keep Everyone Alive has been achieved. Huzzah!

The rest of it… eh. Let’s get into that.

Alright, so the usual culprits: Reading Goals, Writing/Editing Goals, and Rejection Goals. These are kind of the big three that I keep coming back to year after year. Let’s look at how I did last year.

Reading Goals Last year, I stuck with twenty-four books, which had felt about right the year before. I also wanted to split it evenly between fiction and nonfiction, without regard for classifications beyond that. Aaaand I failed *sad trombone* or so I thought! Turns out Goodreads keeps better track of these things than I do and I barely squeaked in with twenty four books. Fifteen fiction and nine nonfiction, but you know what? Don’t care. I’ll take the win. (I need it.)

Writing and Editing Goals This year’s goal here was to do one first draft, one editing draft, and at least two new short stories. I thought that I would be able to overshoot this one, but nope. Sure couldn’t. I mostly finished a first draft of the cookbook, and nearly finished a first draft of Anathema, but there was no editing draft this year. I drafted up several short stories, but all basically just drafts of the same one story, and I really haven’t quite gotten it to where it needs to be anyway. So I guess I’ll count that as one short story? Still. It’s a fail.

Rejections Goals This year I figured I’d shoot for twenty four rejections, with the recognition that I might need to scale this back for mental health reason. And it was indeed scaled back. Waaaay back. All the way back to zero. I dropped this goal pretty quickly in the year and I think that was a good call. I managed to get into submissions a little toward the end of the year, but definitely without numbers goals involved. So I have some rejections, but I’m not sure how many and I don’t feel like counting them up. So yeah. Also fail.

So yeah. Rough year. But I’m not beating myself up over it. It was a rough year for pretty much all humans, so I’ll chalk this one up to solidarity and forget it ever happened. Failure means you’re trying, learn from your mistakes, and all that. Done.

This year! I’m not deluding myself into the belief that just because the Gregorian calendar says so, we’re on a clean slate. I don’t really expect things to get back to “normal” any time soon, so my typical goals won’t either. Once again, we’re scaling things back, with the room to grow them later if the year becomes amazing. That said, this year’s goals are…

  1. Reading Goal: Twenty-four books, of any variety, two per month. Twenty-four seems like a good fit, so we’ll keep it on.
  2. Writing and Editing Goals: I’m going to finish a first draft book and the short story from last year before the end of the month. Then I will do one first draft (dispersed between two NaNo’s) and one edit (sprinkled without deadline throughout the rest of the year). I’m not going to fuss about shorts this year.
  3. Submission Goal: I will do twelve submissions, one per month. That is all. Rejection, acceptance, or soul-crushing silence, it all counts toward the goal once I click send.

And that’s it! I’m hoping the year will steady out a bit and we can start the process of recovering. But even if it doesn’t and things stay wonky, I still think I can accomplish these goals. (If the year gets even worse than last year, then I’ll ditch all goals, abandon hope, and admit myself into a probably-haunted asylum hidden in the wilderness.)

How about you guys? Any literary goals for the year (or month, or week), or are we done with that nonsense? Let me know in the comments below! And until next week, happy writing!

Avoiding Rejection

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like this has been a tough year. And even after being on my new mood stabilizers for thirteen weeks, there are still things that are simply too soul-crushing to force myself to do just yet.

Take submissions. For the last several years, I’ve had a yearly rejections goal. Instead of having submissions goals, I choose rejections goals specifically because I’m trying to trick myself into not feeling as badly about how many of those submissions come back as rejections. Sometimes it works and I don’t feel too badly about the inevitable ‘no’s that flood my inbox after sending out a bundle of submissions. Sometimes it works… less… well.

Now, I take submissions far too personally even in a good year. So in this, a double-plus ungood year, asking people to look at something I have spent years working on (basically my soul at this point) and tell me it is garbage (a.k.a. I am garbage) and, if I’m really lucky, to take the time to tell me why I am garbage (although much more likely is that I’m not even worth a form letter and will get to listen to the cavernous sound of an endlessly-waiting silence for the rest of forever), is just not a thing I can handle right now.

So yeah. Submissions were out this year. I don’t even feel guilty about it. Sometimes, you just have to prioritize your health.

Querying has always been a fraught path for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, and many other mental health issues. This isn’t the case for everyone, of course. Every now and then, someone in my Twitter feed will say something about how they just loved the querying process and it was so much fun and they miss it so much. I love these people. I love their successes. I love that they can find joy in every part of their careers. But I am not those people. Querying has always been a crucible of the soul that I have to spend a lot of time psyching myself up for and a lot of time recovering from.

Currently, I have been more or less recovering from a particularly brutal round of submissions for a little over a year. This is the longest I have ever had to go and I still don’t feel up to it. And although I’ve done a few small things here and there (tiny writing competitions, #PitMad, etc), I haven’t queried any agents for a very long time. Honestly, I’m sad about that. I’m sad that these stories I love so much will never appear anywhere but my hard drive at this rate. I’m sad that I’m so far pretty unsuccessful at my chosen field. I’m sad that my mental state is still so fragile. But I can’t force myself to be better, and I’m not going to try to. I know from experience that I will only make it worse.

So instead, I’m doing what I can. I’m enjoying getting ready for a quiet Christmas. (I love quiet so much, guys. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.) I’m checking in with friends and neighbors to make sure they’re well. I’m doing all the artsies. And I’m taking my medication religiously, even though it’s doing its job and I don’t feel like I need it so much anymore. (Seriously, don’t just stop taking your meds because you feel better. Talk to your doc.)

On the medication note, I did say that I’d check in again and let you know how it was working. As mentioned earlier, I’m a little over thirteen weeks in and it’s doing its job. It hasn’t wiped my emotions and made me a zombie like I feared it would; I still have emotions, but they’re just more manageable. I have been told that having emotions that are mostly manageable is a normal gig, but it still feels a little weird to not be strung out on my own feelings all the time. And I’m happy to report that all the side effects that plagued me at the onset (nausea, exhaustion, etc) have eased up and gone away. I feel pretty normal, which is itself a victory.

So I think I’m going to give myself a pass on the rejections goals for this year, and probably next year too. Yes, submissions are pivotal for becoming traditionally published, and yes, I will get back to it eventually. But not this year, and probably not for a while into the future. If I feel like it, I’ll send out submissions, but I’m not going to try to force it.

I hope you guys are doing well and looking forward to your winter holiday of choice! And until next week, happy (and healthy) writing!

The Semiannual Changing of the Guard

In the far reaches of the boreal north, the end of summer is upon us! The leaves are starting to turn, I’m prepping my beehive and henhouse for their winter iterations, and the mornings are starting to have a little more bite.

Fond Husband and I trade off home duty twice a year. He works during the school year as a teacher, and then stays home with the kiddos in the summer while I go off and work in an outdoor equipment shop. Spring and fall are always big transition times around here, and it’s as much to do with this as with any more natural seasonal changes.

The end of summer always feels like a bigger shift than spring. Working full time is hard but, at least for me, staying home full time is harder. The work never ends, there are a hundred thousand small things to keep track of, and the clients are always screaming, breaking my things, and smearing stuff on the walls. It’s a bit of an adjustment coming back into it.

Especially this year. With COVID still making life a general dumpster fire, none of my children are attending school right now. Instead, they’re home with me, as well as a few extras whose parents need childcare since their kids’ schools aren’t open either. So I have five kiddos trying to do school virtually, plus an ankle-biter trying to not die of boredom while the other kids are schooling. And I—instead of having school time to do my one remaining part-time job, freelance writing gigs, and fiction-scrawling shenanigans—am trying to keep everyone on task, play tech support, and figure out where the heck the pencil drawer keeps disappearing to. The kids attend different schools, so they’re on different schedules too, all starting, ending, and taking lunches and recesses at different times. And this is all on top of the mere fact that they have to sit in front of a screen for five hours a day.

It’s not my favorite thing.

But we’re only one week in, so I still hope that things will improve and we’ll find ways to educate our kiddos without them thinning cortex membranes and melting their brains. Here’s to hoping!

The end of summer is a good time for me to reflect on what I did with myself all season. You may remember from House of Order that I had a lot of ambitious goals laid out week by week, and I’m happy to report that I managed to complete them all. In the process, I learned a new way to motivate myself!

So I had an array of rewards planned for if I achieved those goals, and they were in the sweet spot of being small enough that I would get them for myself, but frivolous enough that I wouldn’t just go get them anyway. At one point, I was really struggling to keep meeting these goals, especially when things got crazy at work, and I was losing my sense of motivation. When I lose motivation, I basically turn into a large slug living off of self-loathing and potato chips, so I really didn’t want to go there. Then, I struck upon a plan.

I bought my desk plant early. Weeks before I’d actually earned it, I set it on my desk and watered it and hummed songs to it while I worked and groomed it and doted on it and generally fell in love. But I had a deal with myself in the back of my head, a horrible, terrible nightmare contingency.

If I didn’t earn my plant, I had to give it away.

This was going to be worse, way worse, than just not buying the plant in the first place. Before, if I didn’t make it, oh well, I didn’t make it, no plant for me. But this way, I- I- I’d bonded! How could I give my plant away after we’d bonded???

Motivation was suddenly running hot again. I wouldn’t say I slam-dunked my goals. It was more like when I ran the Midnight Sun Run that one year and got across the finish line at literally the last possible second to hit my goal time. (59:59, baby!) But by gum, I did it.

And my little Boston fern got a name. I call her Gully.

It was a good summer, despite all the weirdness and hair-pulling distress that is 2020 so far. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to keep that motivation up as we move into the next chapter.

How about you? Any seasonal changes in your lives? Have you had productive summers, or are looking forward to an awesome autumn? Let me know in the comments below!

And until next week, happy writing!

Reblog: 5 Ways to Subvert

Hi, frieeeeends! I am about neck deep in trouble this month, barely bobbing along with my head above water. I’m keeping up with the deadlines so far (which is good since I really want that desk plant), but a hiccup (or a cough, you might say, thanks COVID) at work means that instead of doing my job in September and October, I have to do it now now NOW RIGHT NOW to be ready for remote delivery in the fall instead of our regular in-person delivery, which is going to make for a cramped end of the month when Camp NaNo and my work are both due, with two book revisions hot on their heels in the two weeks that follow. Not to mention that things at my summer job have amped up, with three big orders coming in for the fall season and another six major orders due for next spring’s goods within the next two-and-a-half weeks, and my manager is going out of town for a week and has basically put me in charge of a horde of good-natured but highly distractable and benignly lazy teenagers. Send help now.

That said, instead of writing you more blog post, you get a reblog of 5 Ways to Subvert Character Cliches and Archetypes, from the ever fine Casimir Stone of Reedsy, writing for Now Novel. Enjoy!

5 ways to subvert character clichés and archetypes

Character clichés - 5 ways to subvert them | Now Novel

Creating the next Harry Potter or Holden Caulfield is no easy feat! When writing secondary characters in particular, it’s easy to fall back on clichéd archetypes and stock characters. Yet this isn’t necessarily bad. Embracing stock characters can be more effective than making your character over-complicated. You can turn common or overused character tropes on their head, too.

Here are five easy ways to inject life into familiar character types:

1. Subvert archetypes to avoid character clichés

The most common means of subversion, of making something other than what it first appears, is to introduce a cliché before revealing things aren’t what they appear.

In other words it’s still okay to introduce a valiant knight in the mold of Sir Lancelot… So long as he eventually reveals himself to be more than just an obvious symbol.

Lev Grossman — the author of The Magicians (often referred to as “Harry Potter for adults”) gives us an example.

Example of subverting a character cliché

In The Magicians, Grossman’s character Henry Fogg is a Master Magician and Dean of Students at a school for magic. The author surely knew his character’s type and function could invite comparisons to another fictional wizard: Dumbledore.

However, unlike the wise, benevolent leader of Hogwarts, Fogg quickly shows himself to be cowardly, selfish, and severe. He ultimately fills an adversarial role opposite Quentin, the protagonist, Fogg’s would-be mentee.

This serves a narrative purpose. It turns a secondary character into a source of conflict.

But it also works rhetorically, similarly to a ‘red herring’: it surprises the reader and makes them question their own intuition.

Subversion can also be used as a means of character or plot development.

In Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel series, the authors turn many superhero tropes on their heads. The character Ozymandias is set up as the typical “smartest man in the world”. This is a stock or clichéd comic book character who is overshadowed by brawnier counterparts in strength but not smarts.

However, Ozymandias’ non-threatening appearance makes him a ruthlessly efficient and undetectable villain. The revelation of the character’s malevolent power packs all the more punch since, up until this point in the story, readers may see him as little more than a forgotten sidekick. [Use the ‘Character’ section of the Now Novel dashboard to brainstorm characters and their purpose – Ed’s note.]

To subvert your own characters:

  1. Identify a list of character clichés usually associated with their type (e.g. ‘warrior’ equals ‘strong’).
  2. Think of how stock character types (such as “mentors”) have typical behavioural features. Dumbledore or Charlotte the Spider will always be wise and cautious.
  3. Then create a character to fit that mold perfectly… before revealing that, say, their “wisdom” is just stolen from a book of idioms. Subversion such as these add surprise complexity to your characters and story.

2. Parody the clichéd character archetype

If you prefer to introduce a character who isn’t any deeper than a cliché, there are ways to make this interesting too. It’s a classic approach of comedy. You can take this character and their development in the opposite direction to the first approach and parody this type…

Ready to read some more? Head on over to Novel Now for the full article! And until next week, happy writing!

Midsummer Goal Confessions

Happy summer solstice! Happy Juneteenth! Happy Father’s Day!

The midsummer festival was cancelled this year (and the fair, and Crab Fest, and the Midnight Sun Run, and everything fun *weeps*), but we partied it up at my place by—oh, wait, we didn’t! Because it was so dark and bucketing rain that it couldn’t possibly be solstice and we got confused and didn’t even realize what day it was. Right! Good times.

The estival solstice marks (approximately) halfway through the calendar year, so I figured this might be a good time to do a mid-year check in on how I’m doing on my New Year’s goals, especially as I prepare to hop into another session of Camp NaNo. Things have  n o t  steadied out in all the ways that I had hoped, plus the world in general decided to join in the fun in a multitude of ways too! So doing pathetically easy goals that felt really lame at the time actually turned out to be a great call. Looks like Jill has the power of foresight! Who knew!

I’m actually a little ahead on my twenty-four-books reading goal for the year, but about two-thirds of the books I’ve read have been nonfiction, so I need to pick up the fictional stuff a bit more. And since I did my first book shop raid since before Christmas late last week, I have fresh ammo for that one. Oh, wait, those were all nonfiction that I bought? All of them? …Oh right, because before I made it over to the fiction section, I got gently tossed out of the shop so that other customers could have a turn. But it’s not like I don’t own hundreds upon hundreds of fiction books already. I’ll manage. Somehow. *sinks onto fainting couch*

For my writing and editing goals, I at least have a plan for the rest of the year, with the slight hope that, if ever I should ever ever get my life back again, I might be able to overdo this stuff. I want to complete an editing pass on Quicksilver Queen, my Sherlockian fantasy/steampunk/who knows novel—and I’m actually getting pretty close! And for my first draft of a new novel, I’ll be working on Anathema, a fairy tale retelling, that I anticipate working on for both this session of Camp NaNo and for NaNoWriMo as well. If I can knock out at least one of the short stories by the end of the summer, that gives me plenty of room to actually surpass this goal by the end of the year.

For my submissions goals… well… um. Yeah. I’ll get to those. Really, I will. Twenty-four rejections by year’s end is still attainable. It is. Really. *coughs*

And just in case you care, my nonbookish goals are going pretty well. I’m fudging the specifics a bit, but the overall spirit of the goals is on track. Horray!

So, if I’m being completely honest here, I’m a little disappointed with myself that I haven’t blown these puny goals out of the water by now. But given how the year is proceeding, both personally, nationally, and globally, I’m trying to not be like that. I’ve got a lot going on and I’m still making forward progress on (most of) my goals. This year just may be the year that I learn to extend myself a little grace and chill out when I don’t do everything on the check list. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing either!

Sitting down and writing out all my writing goals for the summer really helped me to assess where I am and where I ought to be. I think it might behoove me to do something similar for my submissions goals. Just leaving it in a lump sum without little mini-deadlines hasn’t been doing me any favors so far this year. I’ll try to pull something in that vein together in the next few days to add to my goals calendar, maybe starting in the weeks following next month’s Camp NaNo frenzy. You know, just to make sure I don’t actually get my desk plant. *pouts*

All that said, this is your official heads up that next month is another NaNo month. One more comic and then we’re into the madness. Lots of bad art and lazy reblogs headed your way soon!

If you have goals that you’re working on this year, now might be a good time to take a look at how far you’ve come and how your habits are feeling. And be kind to yourself! Even if you still haven’t gotten quite as far as you were hoping, don’t give up. There’s still a lot of year left, and there’s no shame in reworking your goals to fit your evolving situation. I mean, back in January, we all thought the Australian wildfires were going to be the big headline of the year. Times, they are a-changin’. Your goals can too.

I’ll see you next week with this month’s comic! Until then, happy writing!

A House of Order

Well, I’ve done it again. What started as a short story is now quickly ballooning into a feature-length novel. (This is probably some kind of moral failing on my part, I’m sure.) I’m not usually one to bounce around between projects, but there’s been a bit of that lately and I have—somehow and without my quite realizing what was happening—promised to have a first draft of this new story completed by the end of the year.

Sooo… yeah. Things are starting to stack up a bit. I have two short stories I’m picking at, as well as a picture book idea that needs drafting. I’m midstream on editing passes on two nonfiction books as well as a novel; I haven’t quite finished any of them, but I really truly should have by now. And now this. It’s quite a bit more than I normally have on my plate. I try to stay more of a one-project-at-a-time kind of person. But I don’t want to drop any of these projects. I love them all! So now what?

The ever-fantastic CM Schofield has recently inspired me to get myself organized. My system isn’t nearly as glorious as theirs, but I feel waaaaay better for having straightened my stuff out instead of just helplessly letting everything pile up while I stand paralyzed.

The first thing I did was to list out every project that I want to work on, and then to break each down into parts. For example, I have a haunted campsite longish short story idea that I would like to eventually finish. (Ha.) It’s long enough that I should outline it first. And then draft. After that, I’ll probably edit it, and eventually maybe send it off to readers, and then edit it again based on their notes. But for now, I’m just worrying about the outlining and drafting. I don’t think I’ll get beyond that point this summer, so I’m just going to concentrate on that much. I did this for each of my projects that I think I can get to before the school year starts up again in the fall.

With that final school’s-about-to-start deadline in mind, I put all those little chunks into my to-do list with their own staggered deadlines. Remember a couple years ago when I made one teeny mention of my to-do app, Habitica? I’m still using it (and underutilizing it) and loving it. Each of the broken up goal bits went into Habitica along with the date I hoped to have them done by. I also wrote them on my big wall calendar to remind me as those dates approached.

Now, it should be said, I am being really ambitious, both with the amount of projects I’m tackling and with their individual deadlines. I recognize that there’s about a .02% chance that I’ll actually get through all of this in the allotted time frame. And that is A-OK. The point of this exercise was to break the projects into manageable chunks and get each of those chunks on my calendar in a time frame that isn’t so far into the future that I forget it for eight months and then scramble (and fail) at the last minute. Remember, I don’t do things unless there’s a deadline—the more looming, the better.

You know what else I don’t usually work without? Punishments. But since I recognize that these goals are basically nonattainable, and I’m trying to be kinder to myself in this time of difficulty, I’m going easy on the punishments end of the spectrum and am instead offering myself incentives for if I do hit the deadlines. I don’t usually work with rewards so this will be a bit of an experiment for me. Honestly, I haven’t even figured out what those rewards will be yet. (Super cheap plus bad at taking time for myself equals really bad at coming up with rewards.) I’ll let you know how it goes. (It will probably end up being something to do with baking. That’s how I roll. *snickers*)

So that is where I currently stand! I have my first two mini deadlines coming up this Friday, which will (hopefully) springboard me into action that I can keep going throughout the summer. We shall see! I’ll be sure to update this post with the exciting rewards I’ll be lavishing on myself as the season evolves.

UPDATE: So I put my goals all up in a calendar on Google Docs and shared it with my little writing group so that they can heckle me if I fail. But they’ve also posted goals of their own so that I can heckle them back! Yay, friendship! But just in case I actually succeed, here’s the breakdown of the fabulous prizes I’ve worked out for myself. After three successful weeks, I get to pay the kids in video game time to give me a back rub while one of them reads to me. After six successful weeks, I get to have a day of doing no chores, but I still get to check them all off in my to-do list. After eight successful weeks, I get to buy one of those really expensive chocolate bars that Anna got me addicted to. And after ten successful weeks (ha!), I get to buy myself a new houseplant to put on my desk. I currently have NO HOUSEPLANTS on my desk, so I am excited for this one. If it happens. So those are my rewards! Big enough that I want them, and frivolous enough that I wouldn’t just go out and get them regardless, but small enough that I’ll actually follow through with giving them to myself. We’ll see how it goes!

How about you fair readers? Any big plans for the summer? Any super organizational systems that keep you on track? Let me know in the comments below! And until next week, happy writing!

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.