Tag Archives: New Year’s Goals

Preparing for 2015 with Writing Goals

Every year I write about goals and sometimeswe collect them here and see how everyone has done at the end of that year.

The truth is, I talk about goals all the time–NaNo goals, First of the Month goals, Whim goals, Goals Because the Month Started on a Sunday, I Feel Like It goals, Novel Deadline goals, The Night Before I Go to Bed Goals for Whatever Reason . . . You get it, right? I like making goals. I love accomplishing what I set out to do. But the truth is, I always overshoot. Always.

This past NaNoWriMo found me changing rules because I had a book deadline. Here’s what I wanted to do:  rewrite a novel for an editor. Ann Dee and I would finish our book. AND I would rewrite and finish the book I was 10,000 words away from completing from an earlier NaNo. It didn’t all happen.

But I don’t beat myself up when I don’t accomplish what I set out to do. Guess what? Life gets in the way. Always. And while writing is my job, sometimes caring for Mom or being with my girls takes me from my job. I’m blessed to be able to leave my home office and walk in to where there are.

To be successful as a writer, we have to get comfortable with our goal making. Maybe you don’t feel okay when you fail at what you’ve set for yourself (I had a friend who was overzealous like me. This was back in the day. She charted her goals on graph paper and posted them on her fridge, just like I did. She went to a therapist who told her this was bad for her because she always felt like crap when she complete all 250 goals a year!).


here are some ways to set about making your goals. You know, so you don’t end up going to a therapist!

1. Aim at a reasonable target. I knew when I made my November goals they would probably not happen. I was okay with accomplishing only 1.7 of what I set for myself. Make your goals reasonable and achievable. Could I have accomplished what I set out to do November? Yes. However, I made choices that kept me from doing this. Keep Shel Silverstein’s Melinda Mae, who ate a whale a bite at a time, in mind. She’s a good example of winning.

2. Stretch yourself. The idea of a goal, for me, is to stretch. I want to be a better writer, a faster writer, a more thoughtful writer. I shoot a little higher so I have to stand on my tippy-toes to reach the prize.

3. If you’re a writer, don’t make writing your reward after a day of chores accomplished. Instead, make it your habit. Too many times we reward ourselves with writing. When the car is cleaned out. When the house is straightened. When the mile is run. Writing, itself, is the prize. Why put it off? There’s always something that will take your time. Give yourself to writing first, if possible.

4. Set yourself a word count to reach, not a number of hours of Butt in Chair. I can sit at my computer all day, for eight hours, and write nothing. I can research, watch YouTube, read blogs, check Facebook–You’ve done it yourself, right? If you say I’ll write 2000 words today and won’t get up till I’m done, then you’ll run the chance of writing almost ten pages in that writing session.

5. As Anne Lamott says, allow yourself to write shitty first drafts. Here’s where she says it: http://wrd.as.uky.edu/sites/default/files/1-Shitty%20First%20Drafts.pdf

Good, strong writing takes time. Thoughtful writing takes time. And stories are perfected in rewrite. Give yourself permission to write as fast and dirty and drafty as you can. Ignore the voice that tells you that adverb has to go. Write on. Then, in rewrite, begin the amazing work of perfecting the story.

6. Give yourself reasonable goals that YOU control. My dear friend, Rick Walton, taught me this and I have repeated it here many, many times. I will sell three books this year is a much harder goal to accomplish than say, I will write three books this year. You control your writing, but the publishers? Not so much.

7. Tell Writer’s Block it isn’t real. Then believe it. If you’re having a hard time with a novel, you’ve probably taken a wrong turn in your story. So back up and read to see where you’ve gone astray. Don’t wait for the Muse. She may never show.

8. We do what we love. Learn to love writing. Even if you hate it at the same time. Enjoy the struggle of making a passage work, developing a character, working through a difficult plot. Remember–good writing is work. My goal for any novel, once it’s done, is to love that I’ve written.



Filed under CLW, Exercises, Life, writing process

And On We Go . . . Critique Tips 21-30

Well, it’s cold now. I have on my sweatshirt. It rained a lot last night, and the house is chilly without the heat on.

But do you know what’s more important than all that?

Right! The fact that we are getting close to January which means New Year’s Goals.

Take a minute and see what your goals were and see how you’re doing. Okay? Behind? Far ahead?

Now on we go!


21. Do all the sentences work together and make sense? You know what I mean here, I think, so I’m not going to go into detail.

22. Do you let the reader know how old your main character is early on? Unless that is part of your plot twist (which I have seen in Cormier books), the reader needs to know early on who it is they will be following for the next 200 or so pages. If I don’t know an age pretty early on (like in the first page or two) I start feeling antsy. Will I never know? Why isn’t the author telling me? Does the author know?  That means I’ve been pulled out of the book. Give the age in a natural easy way early on.

23. Do you have too many subplots twisting through? Remember whatever you put in a  book you must be able to ‘end’ in a book. And you don’t want to be tying up loose plot threads on the last page of a story. Perhaps a few of these plot threads can be used in another novel. You–the author–want to be in control the whole time. If you feel like the book is getting away from you, check how many subplots you have.

24. Do you have objective first readers/critique-ers? Or do they love you? If they are madly in love with you, well, then they may not be able to give you the best critique. Same thing if they hate your guts. That’s why you’re not supposed to have your mom in group with you. (I don’t want any comments about how you’re mom hated you or loved you or both.) I have some pretty wonderful authors in my group and sometimes I worry that I may not be able to tell them what I think is going wrong in their work. It helps to think, “Hey, you know what? They poop, too.” I’m just saying.

25. Can the reader “see” your main character? Do we know what the MC looks like? Do we have them in our mind’s eye?  You don’t have to go on and on about what the person looks like, but you don’t want to be vague, either.  “I want my reader to decide how my character looks,” one writer told me. Ground your reader in what your MC looks like and the reader will feel more sure of the main character. And don’t have your character looking in a reflective surface and describing herself early on in the novel. I’m reading a non-fiction book where the author says something about how he needed to gain 15 pounds to go home. When he walks out of the hospital he is still 40 pounds lighter than when he walked into it–even after gaining that 15 pounds back. I have a mental image that is  quite telling–and there was no whining going on, no looking in a mirror and etc.

26. Is there too much back story too soon? This is like flashback. Sometimes an author doesn’t know his character until he’s written a novel and he spends a lot of time telling what’s going on. There is little action. Too much ‘talking.’ Knowing where to start in a story is important. And that knowing will help reduce your number of flashbacks, too.

27. Are flashbacks controlled or unwieldy? Kyra came into me looking worried. She looks worried a lot now that she is really writing on her novel. “It seems like my story is all in the present with a lot of flashback. I have to keep going back in time.” Editors don’t always like a story told with  flashback. One reason is because a flashback can bring a forward-moving story to a screeching halt. It is, after all, stopping the main story to tell another, right? Another reason is because lots of times the author gets lost in time, confusing the reader. Even the author can’t remember what tense to use or even which story is most important–the one in the past or the one in the present.

I use flashback all the time. If the present story is heavily influenced by the past, as some of mine  are, then I have to tell the story by looking back. But I try to have each telling from before be an important part of the  story now. So, make sure you’re telling your story appropriately. Is this the right technique to use? Sometimes a story actually starts earlier than you are starting it. “Grab my interest right away” we’re told. But if you are starting the story with a bang and then you have to back up to start where the story really begins, well, you may bore your reader.

28. Do flashbacks enter and leave the story with ease? Are they too early in the story? Remember to tell the reader when you enter or leave a flashback. Maybe something happens in the ‘now’ time of the novel, taking our main character into a memory. Let the reader know as you go into the memory and as you leave. That way your reader will be grounded in time.

29. Don’t have too many people critique your work—too many cooks may spoil your broth. Okay, it’s not always important to listen to all critique. When I pass out my novel to be read I give it to a selected few. If several tell me the same thing–“Wow, this is a big bunch of crap” well–I listen. If one person makes a suggestion that I know will lead my story somewhere else, then I keep that idea in the back of my head. If one person says one thing and three others say three other things, then I DO NOT do what all are suggesting. I don’t want to please everyone. I don’t want a Frankenstein’s Monster when I am finished with a draft.  Take suggestions that work or make sense to you. Perhaps you and your critique-mates can decide that only questions will be asked, not suggestions given. Perhaps you can all decide to get suggestions when the author asks for it.  I hate when I am listening in on a group and everyone is suggesting ways to fix someone else’s story. “I don’t like this part. Do it this way.” I’ve heard people say that. Find the way to work as a group, but don’t try to please everyone in your group or the story will no longer be your own.

All that said, I do every once in a while say to a group member, “What about doing this?” But I never make it sound like this is the only way to fix a story. Why? It’s hard to write a strong critique without seeing a whole novel.

30. Don’t use cliché unless it’s part of the story. Clichéd phrases are worn out and old-something you don’t want your story to be.


WRITING EXERCISE–I missed the last couple of weeks giving you a writing exercise, so I’ll give one today: Using one of these steps–write 500 words or less breaking that particular tip. Then rewrite the scene properly. We’d love to see both, so feel free to post.


So, we’re almost done with our critique suggestions. I hope they’re helping! Feel free to make your own suggestions here or to ask any questions you may have.


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