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!

Advertisements

Keeping My Writing Shop Organized

We writers have a lot to keep track of. Just pretending for a moment that we don’t have jobs, homes, and humans who like to see us more than once a year, we still have to keep on top of our own goals, deadlines, submissions- oh yeah, and writing. How’s a person given to flights of fancy supposed to keep up with it all?

With endless lists and calendars, that’s how! This week, I’ll give you a quick tour of how I keep myself organized- I, who am in all other aspects of my life incredibly disorganized. What follows is a list of… well, my lists. You’ve probably seen some of them over the years already in other lists about fostering story ideas, keeping track of writing goals, and making sure I don’t submit to the same story to the same agent three times. But here they all are together for the first time, sisters in arms! Huzzah!

 

Goal Tracking

Rejections Goal Checklist– Posted on a little white paper directly over my laptop on my desk, this thing is perpetually in my face. I have tiny checkboxes for all the rejections I want to garner over the year, divided out by the months of the year so I can keep track of how I’m doing for time. As I get rejections back, I check the box, write in what’s being rejected by who, and then note it in my submissions master lists (see below).

Annual Resolutions Checklist– This lives on a white board posted over my desk. I list out all my longer-term writing goals, including how many rejections I want, how many edits, how many first drafts and how far out the blog posts need to be scheduled. This is always right in front of my face when I’m at my desk, which is often.

Daily Checklist– This one is full of all the other things I do throughout my day (chores, work, errands, etc), but I also keep short term writing goals on there too. The ones currently most pertinent to my writing current are daily writing goals, daily backshop time, and agents/ short story publishers I want to submit to in the near future. This list is synced between my phone and my computer, and I see it several times every day.

 

Submissions Tracking

Short Stories Submissions Master List– This is a word doc with a table for every short story I have ever finished. It notes where I’m subbing, the editor, the date, when I can expect a response, and what that response was; I also list any new places I want to sub the story to in the future. Other tables list which stories have which rights available, and which stories have been published when and where.

Agent Submissions Master List– This is a word doc with a giant table for each story I’ve queried to agents. The table lists the agent, agency, website, MSWL, query packet contents, query date, expected response time, and finally, what that response was. As I find new agents that I think would be a good fit, I put them in the table, assembling batches of between five and ten before sending them out en masse.

 

Date Tracking

Rolling Monthly Calendar– I have a whiteboard calendar that lives on the wall above my desk. I keep track of everything on this calendar, making note of meetings, work, church activities, blood donations, you name it. A good chunk of the things on this calendar are writing related: submission deadlines, books to betas dates, when I want to send out another batch of queries, stuff like that.

Important Dates List– If I have an important date that I know about, but it’s too far out in the future to make it on the rolling calendar, I put it on the whiteboard next to the calendar (the same board with my annual goals checklist). Whenever I’m rolling my calendar forward, I always check to see if I’m getting close to any important dates.

Blog Post Schedule– I know I’ve talked about the blog posts before, but I’ll mention it again. At the head of the document is a table where I keep my posting schedule. It lists all the dates for usually three months, the title of that week’s post, and a checkbox for when it goes live. Additional notes and the drafts themselves follow this table.

 

Idea Tracking

Story Ideas Master List– I have a brain like a sieve in a sink. Ideas are constantly gushing into it, and then flowing right back out again. If I don’t write an idea down immediately, odds are good it’s going to be gone forever. So I always keep pens and paper with me for jotting things down on the go, and then as soon as I get in front of my computer, it goes up on this google doc.

Book Blurb Master List– This is the newest of my lists. I historically kept blurbs floating around in several places (and in several different forms) and I had to really hunt to figure out where they were. But I recently got them all pulled together in one place, and updated all the ones in need of a little polish. I have blurbs for everything I’ve written at least a full draft for, and have notes on which draft the story is in and an estimate of how close it is to a queryable state.

 

And there you have it! This is how I keep my backshop organized. I probably have more lists floating around that I’ve just forgotten about. Love me some lists. I’ll probably need an intervention soon. The only problem with all this organization is that I know precisely when I’ve blown a deadline and how badly. (Sorry, betas. I swear, it’s coming soon.)

Happy writing!

Resource Roundup: YouTube Edition

So I mentioned last week in Breaking Up with Candy Crush that part of my computerly goofing off occurred on YouTube. I am not, however, breaking up with YouTube. Candy Crush is great for distracting me from doldrums (and my children from squabbles), but really not much more than that. YouTube is actually great for a lot of things.

Beyond sheer entertainment, YouTube is a good resources for many of your writing needs. Here are the ways that I fold YouTube into my writing life. If you have more ideas, I’d love to hear them below!

Research You can look up tons of stuff on YouTube! Want to know about the most poisonous tree in earth? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know how to replace the engine in your car? YouTube can tell you about that. Want to know about what brains do on adrenaline? YouTube can tell you about that. There are so many videos out there that could fall under this umbrella, depending on what your project is about, but a couple of my favorites generalists are SciShow and TED, or any of their affiliate channels.

Writing Tips Whole channels are devoted to breaking down what makes an excellent story, first chapter, character, etc. You can find writing tips on everything from initial inspiration on down to the specific nitty gritty of word choice, crafting believable side characters, and examples of well done settings. One of my favorite shows for writing tips right now is the On Writing series by Hello Future Me.

Editing Tips Not sure how to clean up that messy draft you’ve plopped out on your keyboard? Never fear! YouTube has videos for that! Whether it’s troubleshooting what’s wrong with your character arc, making sure your opening scene doesn’t fall prey to overused tropes, or plucking out all those troublesome adverbs, YouTube has you covered.

Submission Tips Submitting stuff, and all the snarl of yarn that entails, is hands down the scariest part of writing for me. I’ll gobble up any submission tips I can find. I needs ‘em! One of my favorites right now is the Book Doctors’ channel. Their book was great. So is their channel. (They also cover editing and marketing too. Like many of these channels, they cover a lot of stuff.)

Marketing and Promotion I don’t really do this one, but maybe you’re better at promoting yourself and your work than I am. Lots of literary professionals build up a following on YouTube sharing tips, trends, or even just slice of life segments. Authors post thoughts on the writing journey, book trailers, you name it. All of this builds up hype for their work, which hopefully equates more sales!

Inspiration Yes, you can be ‘working’ while browsing interesting videos! I don’t know how many times I’ve been goofing around YouTube and then an idea suddenly pops in my head for a new element in a story I’m working on, or even a new story altogether. That’s the fun thing about inspiration- you never know what will lead you to it!

If you don’t even know what you’re looking for, but find yourself trawling YouTube for stray thoughts, you can’t go wrong working your way through The Write Life’s click-bait-titled list, 15 of the Best YouTube Channels for Writers. Go give it a glance! (I’m gonna go check out Brandon Sanderson’s BYU lecture series first minute I find.)

All that said, do be cautious. Like all of the internet, YouTube is vast and interesting, and getting sucked down that rabbit hole is a lot easier than we like to admit to ourselves. It helps to have a system in place to keep YouTube from cutting in too much on your writing time. Some people use a timer. Some people only let themselves watch a certain number of videos per day. Personally, I only watch YouTube when my kids are up and about, which is time in which I wouldn’t be able to effectively do any writing anyway. Find what works for you and stick to your guns!

What else do you use YouTube for? Do you have any great resources you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments below! Please and thank you!

(On an unrelated note, happy birthday, Mama! Thanks for keeping me alive and sane-ish all those years!)

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!

I’m Totally Judging You

judge1A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to help judge a writing competition. I’d never judged at this level before, although I had competed in several judged competitions, so I didn’t quite know what to expect from the process.

I won’t claim that I learned anything earth shattering, but I wanted to a post a few tips I would give writers submitting to competitions in general. Most of this stuff you’ve probably heard a dozen times, but they came up often enough that once more probably won’t hurt, right? Right.

So without further ado, here are my six tips for entering writing competitions.

Use a spell checker. Seriously. Few things are as distracting to me as a reader than an abundance of typos, and they are so easy to guard against these days. Most writing programs will tell you as you’re writing if your words are misspelled, and often even if they’re being misused. (Some even offer style suggestions! Crazy!) So just take a few moments before submitting a story and make sure yuor words is’nt wrong.

Follow submission guidelines/ competition rules. Are you tired yet of being told to follow the rules? I always am! And yet I was shocked at how many of the submissions I reviewed weren’t following guidelines. One wasn’t even the right genre for the competition! When submitting, please make sure you are submitting the right story to the right place and in the right way. Please don’t be That Guy that makes people like me have to keep telling decent internet folk to just follow the rules.

Make sure your story is a story. Does your story have an arc? Does it have conflict? Does it have characters? (I’m not even kidding.) If it’s missing any of these things, squint at it a little harder before sending it in. Even a very skillfully written series of events won’t go far if it’s just that- a series of events. Make sure your story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, preferably with some kind of growth in between. Make sure it’s a story.

The first few paragraphs are key. Make sure that you draw your readers in immediately. When judging, I read through and rated submissions in batches. While I took care not to work while I was totally glazed over, it’s hard to get into a story that starts off in the wrong place, or even too slowly. Short stories have a limited word count so be certain you’re making the most of your space.

Sensory details really sell a setting. Again, limited word count. But that’s why you must make sure that you set the scene quickly and completely. Small, specific sensory details can ground a reader in a time or place with few words and make a huge difference in the reader’s immersion level. Of all the stories I judged, each one described what conversations were heard and what people/things/events were seen and what emotions were felt. Fewer talked about the colors of flowers or the city sounds of cars and construction. A couple talked about how the environment actually felt. Only one mentioned smells and tastes.

Take heart- There are a lot of good writers out there. Whether or not you win, you’re probably one of them! Even if you don’t place the first time, or the first ten times, don’t sweat it. Any writing competition is going to draw in writers of all levels and, while judges try to be objective in their criteria, there is some personal taste going into the matter, too. If your story doesn’t get picked, don’t quit. Polish the story a little more and find another place to submit it to. Never surrender!

Happy writing!

Of Productivity and Patience

patience-is-a-virtueEvery Tuesday morning and Thursday evening, I put my kids to bed and get on my computer and curse my internet connection and open Scrivener. I write every day, usually at night after having put my kids down to sleep, but Tuesday morning and Thursday evening are special because those are the times when I write with friends.

Mary has been my number one writer friend for years and years and is pretty much my soulmate. My number two is Anna- who shares with me an almighty kitchen quirk and who gave me a questionable bag of flour that I can’t get rid of because it was Anna’s questionable bag of flour and I’ll be darned if I throw it out before I figure out what it is- and, even though both of them have moved away from me, we still carve this time out to write together. I love this writing time, and it feeds my soul in a different way than just writing by myself does.

In our little group dynamic, I am and always have been The Nag. I’m constantly blowing up their phones if they forget what day it is, or talking smack when their word counts are low, or coming up with new and improved ways to extort their stories out of them. My latest scheme is our Chapter Pact of Doom. (I am the only one who calls it that.)

Every other Friday, we are each supposed to post a chapter of our current WIP to a Google doc that the others have access to. This is kind of new and terrifying for me because I once-shy-of-never show first draft material to people, and here I am posting it to the internet to peruse at their leisure. *faints* But this just goes to show you how far I will go to try and shoehorn forward writing progress out of myself and everyone around me, especially when it comes to first drafts.

I write rapidly. Feverishly. I squeeze first drafts out with the hurried frenzy of Peter Rabbit popping through Mr. McGregor’s fence.

But there is another end to this spectrum. As important as it is to get stories quickly to market, there is a Zen to writing as well that cannot be rushed.

No matter how quickly you can put words down, writing requires phenomenal patience. A book that takes me two months to write can also take me two years to edit. I’ve been querying literary agents with only glacial progress for years. Even if I signed tomorrow, it would in all likelihood be years longer before a book of mine ever hit a bookstore shelf.

So here are a few things that I’ve learned to be patient about over the years.

Editing As quickly as I draft, I am at least that slow in editing. Everything about this process is super slow and thoughtful. A passage that took me minutes to jot down can take months to tweak into its polished final state. Drafting is all about just getting ideas onto the page. Editing is a hundred things more- checking for spelling and grammar; clarifying; refining the voice; making sure the scene and each part of it move the story forward; putting emotion on the page; grounding the scene in sensory detail; ALL THE THINGS. And that takes time!

Submitting Even after all these years, it still burns us. Crafting submission materials (blurbs, queries, bios, etc) is only half the battle. Then you have to research the heck out of who you’re going to send all this material to- and then tailor each submission for just that person. This does not happen overnight. (Or if it does, you’re doing it wrong.) And even after you’ve finally gotten your materials perfect and sent them to the perfect people, you still have to wait for…

Responses So, waiting for responses is actually one of the things I’ve gotten decent at being patient for. When I first started submitting stuff (to anyone, really- friends, beta readers, agents, etc), I felt like I was sitting in a boiler room on a bed of broken glass. There were even a few times where anxiety got the better of me and I thought I was going to die of a heart attack or something before the whole ordeal was over. But these days, I’ve learned how to keep myself busy while waiting for responses. I have other projects I work on. I send things out in batches timed so that there’s always a few out and a few more to send. I read exciting books. I occasionally skip the country on vacations. You know, things like that.

Fame, Riches, and Glory I’m, uh… I’m still waiting on this one. Completely. And frankly, this is probably a thing I’ll be patiently waiting for until I die.

Writing is a lot of work- the kind of work that happens quickly, and the kind that happens slowly. If I worked very slowly at all of it, I would never have the body of prose that I’ve accumulated, nor gotten through the literal millions of words of practice that I have. But if I was a slave to speed in its every aspect, sure, maybe I’d have a lot of work, but none of it would have the kind of polished refine that it requires to garner any critical notice, whether that’s from agents or publishers or readers. A writer requires both. And that is something that took me a long time to learn.

So whether you’re pouring on the heat to try and muscle through a first draft in three weeks flat, or reining in the horses to make sure you really get this one line just right, take pride in knowing that you’re giving your work just what it needs- a push of productivity, and a pinch of patience, each in due course.

Happy writing!

The Great Annual Resolutions Post

calvinresolutionHowdy, folks! Hey, look, we all survived another year! Wowza!

I made a few resolution shifts midyear last year. I switched over from the paper calendar system I had been using to a phone app called Habitica that is delightfully nerdy and keeps me on my toes. It taps into my love of check boxes, but then also has a built in reward system, so it works very well for me, and I think I’ll cling to it forever.

Overall, I had a good year, without too many dropped balls on my goals. My exercise goals got derailed every now and then by rugby injuries, and I jumped ship on a few writing projects, switching over to things that were more interesting at the time (because squirrel brain: the struggle is real). And as mentioned a few weeks ago, I did manage to scratch and claw my way to receiving Writer of the Year from the Alaska Writers Guild. But the goal I know you’re all just dying to know about: the rejections goal.

As you may recall from this post last year, I had a goal to receive at least forty-eight rejections. I counted short story submissions, queries, competitions- anything that pitted my writing against a slush pile. The final count is in aaaand… I failed! *sad trombone* As of December 31, I only tallied forty-four rejections.

I’m not being too hard on myself, because I still managed to achieve the two main objectives of the rejection goal: I got better at taking rejections as impersonal matters of preference, and I pushed myself to submit waaaay more than I usually do. As a result, I also had way more acceptances than I normally do! And as an added benefit that I hadn’t even anticipated, I had a super productive year for short stories too, because I had to make sure that I had fresh material to shop around as my old store of shorts got published. Overall, it was a very good year for my writing!

So I think I’m gonna stick with what works. I’ll keep with a forty-eight rejections goal for this year as well, since I felt really pushed and still didn’t quite manage to make the goal. I think I can hit it for reals this time! For novels, since I didn’t stick with the titles I had planned to work on, but still managed to get good work done with other projects, this year I think I’ll just drop the specifics altogether and just have a goal of two new first drafts, and a round of edits each for two first drafts from last year. I’ll work on whatever sounds most fun in the moment! I also plan to average one new short per month, although I don’t plan on worrying too much about how marketable they all are. And for daily goals, I plan a baseline of 500 words per day, and ten minutes of backshop, with Sundays off to rest my weary brain meats. I have goals for my spiritual, mental, and physical health as well, but that’s it for my writing goals.

Whew! All the things! I should have plenty to keep myself busy over the next year. I would love, love, love to hit that rejections goal, and maybe even outstrip this year’s number of acceptances. Heck, if we’re getting really pie-in-the-sky, I’d like to pick up an agent as well, haha, but that one’s a little less in my control. The only thing I can do is keep researching, stay consistent, and continue to hone my craft as much as I can. So that’s what I’ll do!

How about you fine folks? Any exciting new goals for this year? Let’s chat about them in the comments section! I’d love to know your plans!

Until next week, happy writing, and happy New Year as well!