Impossible Goals

I’ve always been fond of the movie What About Bob? and partly because it has that great theory of baby steps. Of course Bob makes it hilarious-  Baby Stepping out the door. Baby stepping into the elevator. But the truth of that theory has worked for me. I don’t like to set big New Year’s Resolutions because it feels like too much to take on at once. I prefer the method of adding on something small to medium-sized and re-evaluating at the end of a month and the beginning of the next.

It’s how I combat procrastination – I spent how many hours playing video games this month? (Okay, that was a couple years ago- I don’t do it much now.) I’ve turned much of that time into more productive activities toward my goals.

So when someone close to me rattled off a median income for writers as “$70 000 a year,” I almost fell off my chair. And I was belted into a car. Median is supposedly the middle of all the writers out there, so while a straight average might take into account the big earners like Patterson and King and Rowling, the middle would be where the 50% percentile earner had income.

I’m skeptical. I want proof. I couldn’t get it, and I’d like to see where that kind of number comes from. There are so many writers out there, some of whom only send out one book and self-publish, some of whom have one book and traditionally publish, and some of whom keep sending out book after book. Some of these make great money, and others struggle along without much notice.

That median supposedly takes into account all writers, nonfiction and television and tech writers and fiction. If that had any truth, wouldn’t more of us be attempting to be writers?

Mostly, the part that makes me sad is when I think about that as a goal, as an answer to when I’ll be successful is when I hit the median of “writers,” it feels impossible. I don’t rise to impossible overnight. I like small goals. Like, how about, make more money this year than I pay out? And try to do that a couple years running?

Please send me a  comment with what you think it takes to be a successful writer – and what the goals are that keep you going on your path.

Yesterday I completed 720 days in a row of writing at least 750 words per day. I also received a rejection for my manuscript from an agent. Today’s task list includes rewriting. I haven’t given up on this writing dream.

December Brings New Goals

Why? Because it’s just fun to start a new month with new things to do.

NaNoWriMo is always fun. I met new people with the Quad City Writing Guild. New name for them, too, because they’re simply trying to organize the WriMos around the area. They decided it was so much fun, they didn’t just want to meet during November.

I didn’t finish my November novel, and I knew I wouldn’t this year. That’s been a goal for a while, but I knew with that idea it wasn’t going to happen. It’s too big. I’m not sure I have it fully contained. I will keep working on it. Last night I tried to match up the pieces I wrote to the outline boxes. Got interrupted, too, but that just means I will finish it later today.

My new habit for November was getting up super early. Before 5am, local time. I have a writing buddy (in Eastern Time) who writes with me for half an hour, first thing in the morning. I made it every day but two in November. For December, we rolled the back half an hour. I already missed yesterday due to illness in the house, but it’s a nice thing to write when it’s quiet and I will continue the best I can.

For December, also, I’m editing, rewriting, whatever it takes to get some projects ready to be released into the world. Three days in, and I have done some work on Don’t Tell Your Mother each day. I’ve also been keeping up the 750words streak, and I have passed 970k on the site. Will definitely pass the one million words mark this month. I have a short story for an anthology with a deadline of 31 January.

One thing that really keeps me on my toes for DTYM: my main character loves food. Everything revolves around food, it seems, and I struggle with that because as long as I’m not hungry, I don’t think about it much. It’s one reason I have such trouble planning meals in advance. My nose doesn’t smell things the same way everyone else does, so describing the food aromas has been a big challenge. Remind me to try to rein in the next character that goes foodie on me.

Yeah, right, like that will work. Characters! They always have to have it their way.

The Trilogy… Progress and Goals

I’ve been working on Book 3 about a month. I’ve written 48,336 words. While I’d planned for 75k, I’m going to change the plan. It isn’t because there are 11 days until NaNoWriMo – or that isn’t the only reason.

The main reason I’m changing the plan is I changed the way I wrote this novel. I started at the end, which I thought was solid. The problem arose during the draft that I had a question that fit within the novel’s conflict that I hadn’t addressed at the end. It became more and more apparent as I continued writing.

Then I stopped writing from the back forward. I started at the beginning and wrote toward where I left off. This was both a blessing and a curse. The question that had been hovering around the narrative took over. Because I started at the end, I lost the feeling of where I was within the book. I feel like there are holes that I haven’t filled in yet. I know my end has changed, because jumping around the way I did brought different pieces to light that needed to be resolved in a little bit different way.

I learned a lot from this experiment. It doesn’t matter how many novels you write – each one teaches you something. My method of discovery works better with an outline, which I have had for each of these novels. I write better when I take a mostly-forward direction from the beginning to the end. I have this picture in my head that changes as I progress through my story world, and the holes become apparent as I near the end, then I skip around again and write the scenes that plug the holes. By the time I reach the end, I generally have to cut off the beginning to find where my story truly starts. But writing that false beginning also gets me within the world and it is real to me.

I wouldn’t know all of this if I hadn’t written so many drafts. I know that I need to print these things off to read them and start editing. If I try to do that digitally, I don’t get anywhere. Next month I’m excited to start a new project.

So my revised goal for the next 11 days is to put the novel in chronological order as it stands, read through it, write the revised ending that finishes the conflict that decided it was going to be the focus of the narrative, and to make notes about where I think the holes are to start editing in December. It’s respectable to say I wrote 113k toward two YA novels in 66 writing days.


I find it so difficult to start a new year with resolutions, and yet I keep doing it. This year has been difficult because of a flu, so I allowed a delay for the start of all the new things I want to do. 

There are always things I want to do. There are a lot of things that don’t get done that I intend to do, but that’s just a regular day. Finally this week I dug out my notebook and made a list. All right, it might have been a shopping list in one column and a list of chores on the other side, but steno books are great for two-column lists and it helped me focus. 

The other thing I did was get out a composition book for each project I am working on. One of them is for reading books and notes on things that I read about writing or other things. It helps, though it is cumbersome to drag them all up or down the stairs. It makes me wonder why I can’t work on just one project at once. 

I’m also neck-deep in notes for a project I’ve been working on for three years. That doesn’t seem like a lot to say, but it feels like forever. I want this one off my docket and out for publication this year, so I need to keep moving on the notes front and rewrite the thing. [This one also adds a three-inch binder to the pile of composition books. I bet I look funny grabbing out my pile of books when the kids go to bed.]

No wonder I’ve simply been leaving them in the other room. The new habit to cultivate is to get one out every night and work on it. I also resumed my 750words a day. I missed one day this month, but it feels better to work out my little brainstorms that way. Missing last month I felt like I couldn’t focus on a thing (even though I gave myself the month off in order to get other things done – none of them really got completed).

More coming soon. Hope the new year is happy for you and that many good resolutions work their way into good habits.

Stretching for Goals

I read Yoga Journal, and I found this quote:  “Failing is a part of success. To make goals effective, you have to fail at them 50 percent of the time, or they didn’t stretch you far enough.” Chip Wilson, courtesy of an article by Ella Lawrence called Set Your Course.

While I make goals and I keep track of them, I must not be stretching myself enough according to that standard. I often choose smaller goals and see if I can do more than just the minimum. I also realize that it isn’t possible to do everything I want to and have interest to attempt. Not even close. But I do prioritize and make an effort on the things that matter to me – though it is often something I know I can do if  I put a reminder in front of me.

So what is the change if I allow myself to fail at a goal here and there? It opens up a lot of possibilities. I can call it a work-in-progress and remind myself that there is wiggle room. Yet it’s also good to remember I only have a couple hours a day when I am doing things for me and not my children.

Writing takes up a lot of that time. I won’t apologize for it, because it’s what I love to do.

I’ve been struggling to get back to my daily yoga practice post-baby. Part of this is because I don’t have somewhere to go do it yet, and my toddler takes it as an invitation to use me as a jungle gym. It greatly increases the difficulty of a pose like Warrior I when you have a small child standing on your back leg.

My challenges this month are to go back to yoga every day and to edit a novel and to keep up my writing streak and prep another novel. Those are big goals considering my newborn is 7 weeks old. He just slept a little over 6 hours, which is called “through the night” by the professionals… and I woke before he did. Somehow I was wide awake and starving at 3:30 in the morning.

If this keeps up, I’ll have plenty of time to practice yoga when my children are sleeping. And edit my novel. Probably a bunch of other things, too, but six hours isn’t really enough sleep for me on a regular basis. While I can dream of things like bottling time, liquid sleep, cloning, and delegating roles to an army of bored people who procrastinate their time away, I know that we’re all given the same time and it’s what we do with it that sets us apart from the rest.

I don’t have time to be bored. If I finish those novel edits, I’m going to dive back into writing that novella I think I have a handle on completing. There’s always another project that I’d like to tackle – even if it’s just knitting another rug for the bathroom floor.

What do you do for your goals? How do you know you’re successful? What do you think of the 50 percent and stretching quote from Chip Wilson?

Measuring Success

A book blogger friend of mine posted this over the weekend: The Honest to Goodness Truth about Comments. While I wanted to comment right away, it got lost in my iPad with its refusal to link through my Open ID. Blah. By now I’ve all but forgotten the encouraging comment I had (one of the drawbacks of a newborn keeping me up all night), but my question remains on my mind.

How do you measure success?

Success ought to be achieving goals that you set out for yourself, but it isn’t that simple. While we place goals in front of ourselves, the pieces that determine whether or not we are successful are often out of our hands. Do you set straightforward goals with singular paths to achieve them?

Sometimes it isn’t about giving up or staying the course. Sometimes it is about how success is defined. Another friend of mine, Michelle Tuesday, runs a music school. A guy came in one day to sell her the option of a better page rank. Michelle knows her page rank, her analytics, and how to reach her customers. A page rank may or may not lead to more students in her school. She defines success as keeping her students happy and building her studio. These are measurable goals and she can track how she’s doing.

I sometimes have issues with this. While I am not counting the comments in my success, I love to get them. I can see how when so much time is spent crafting posts to put in the blog that it can be easy to see that lack as a failure whether it is or not. How many other things are easier to count as failures rather than how success ought to be measured? Is this just another way we give ourselves permission to give up on our pursuits?

I remember when I sold lia sophia jewelry I had a manager who defined success as getting out there. She encouraged us to get ‘no’ answers, because we were trying. I wrote the word NO on a piece of paper 50 times trying to hear that from my customers. While I think I did manage to get yes as an answer, I did also hear the word No a lot. The trick was not to let it shut you down. Getting out there meant becoming a success.

In some ways I treat my creative pursuits the same way. I get out there. I send stories for publication. I share them with friends. I blog and keep up with Facebook and converse on Twitter. Has that sold a million copies of my book? Not even close. Here and there my book does get shared, and every now and then I get feedback from someone who read it. That is what I love. I know I’m out there. I’m sharing with people. It won’t make me rich, but it does make me happy.

Next time you set a goal for yourself, try to make sure that the path to success is within your ability to achieve. What other ways do you define success?

New Years and Resolutions

Right. A new year is coming. Counting down to the bottom of December, and I am not the only one thinking about new goal for the new year. It’s some kind of interesting phenomenon that so many of us set resolutions for ourselves but most of us give up on these goals within six weeks.

And they do say it takes thirty days to make or break a new habit. So what is it about resolutions that don’t stick? Perhaps it is because so many of us are trying to change things that are difficult to change. We also try the same things year after year and fail every time.

There is something about the new year that makes people want to try something new, correct bad habits, or just move out of the rut from the previous year.

I had a good year last year. So it isn’t a rut I am avoiding, unless it would be the part where I am having a baby and should figure that out before attempting to write a dozen novels. [A dozen novels in a year, you say? Possible, I think, but not in a year I have a baby.]

I already have a few goals to meet, like figuring out how to finish my manuscript and finish the next draft of the work in progress. The deadlines extend through the move and the upcoming baby. While I think it is important to keep making progress, I also believe that it is more important to make adjustments for things that happen instead of calling myself a failure.

Calling myself a failure will never give me anything but grief. So pardon me while I wait on some of those resolutions while I adjust the current goals for my circumstances. I hope all of you manage as well in your current and future endeavors.


How often do you track your personal and professional goals and judge how you use your time toward those goals? I know every so often I come back to my focus and see how it comes together and try to understand if I’m concentrating on the right activities for what I want to accomplish.

That’s always the ticket with me: is this going to fulfill my goals and is it worth my time? Time is incredibly precious and sometimes it seems completely based on perception. Is it my perception that time is dropping from an eyedropper to mimic the slowness of certain activities? Is it my perception that it magically speeds faster than light when I’m having fun? How am I supposed to judge similar activities as the same time – or not – if my brain is screaming that one went too fast and the other too slow?

Then there’s the other part about whether or not activities are productive. One goal is to be published. That cannot be achieved without doing specific work to help it along: writing, editing, revising, researching markets, submitting to markets, and responding to feedback when received.

There are other things that I track as far as goals are concerned. Sometimes it takes convincing to decide something isn’t worth the effort. Often when the time comes to let go of an activity, there are issues like commitments to other people and also overall enjoyment to consider. But if you never evaluate what you’re doing and how it reflects the goals you have, how do you know you’re doing what you ought to be doing?

A line on Big Bang Theory talked about how one of the characters, Sheldon Cooper, spent over 3000 hours on an online multi-player role playing game. I’m sure his character would have loved every minute of that and thought of it as quite an achievement. I know other people who use games to ‘kill’ time, and I wonder if that’s ever the best use of time. You have nothing at the end except a higher score or a different color badge. What do you gain? If it’s relaxation, then all may be well and good. If at the end you’re tense because some troll ate your carrot field and you have to start over, perhaps there’s another hobby that will suit you better. I stopped playing several games when I realized they weren’t giving me anything. Now I stick with Sudoku and a version of Mah Jong for solitaire play. I don’t spend much time on it, but it’s fairly low key.

So it’s time to re-evaluate. I’ve been listing activities and things that I have been doing to meet them or things I could be doing to reach it in different ways. Sometimes one gets crossed off or my focus changes to incorporate a new perspective. One day it’ll all be worth it, and I count myself successful as I reach those goals, or sometimes even just making significant progress toward a goal.

How do you count success and keep yourself focused?

To Critique

Sometimes the deadlines just make whooshing sounds as they go by. I had a personal goal to try to get the notes made on a story for a critique partner today. I’m not sure I’m going to make it because my schedule keeps changing. [Seriously, who would drive 4 hours away for the weekend and not leave at naptime if given the choice with a rowdy toddler? However, naptime is generally when I catch up with all my personal goals.]

I read the story and enjoyed it. I marked a bunch of places where I want to make more comments. I’m close, but I’m also afraid if I don’t finish it before I leave for the weekend that I won’t work on it when I’m away, and it’s always good to give it back to someone on a weekend, especially if that other person has a day job.

On the other hand, I really don’t want to rush it. I want to take some good time to dig into the story and tear it apart the best I can to help the author make it awesome. That does take time. It really help that I’ve marked the places to comment, but on the overall I keep losing my train of thought. No excuses there – it’s an off week around my house and I’m doing good for what I’ve managed for the week.

Just don’t check it against my to-do list. That thing always spirals out of control with the number of things that need to be done. It’s like that old saying, “Man may work from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Not that it’s necessarily man’s work versus woman’s work, but somehow the domestic chores are never completed.

Probably because they get in the way of the writing.

I’m sure that’s not true for every household. Not everyone is a writer tucked away masquerading as a housewife. (Or not, I have too many part-time jobs for that as discussed previously.) But there’s always something.

I’d much rather critique a story than do the dishes, which is why my sink is piled high again. And while I catch up with them, I’ll be trying to get my larger comments in order to type in before I leave, if I get a chance.

Sometimes it amazes me how many ways we try to critique stories. Most of the groups I have attended take the position of reading the piece aloud, or part of the piece during each meeting, and then taking notes or simply remembering the parts to critique. The turnaround is immediate and there is often little time to think. It took me a long time to get accustomed to the process, and listening actively for that amount of time can be a challenge.

I’ve also had trouble not grimacing when someone makes up a word like “scramblingly.”

Over time, I have learned a bit more from dealing with people online for critiques. Somehow the written word comes through very well and there is plenty of time to figure out exactly the parts that need to be tweaked. It’s also easier to take larger chunks at a time without worrying as much about the time requirement for the room.

There are groups out there who hand out pages each meeting, take them home, and discuss them at the next meeting. I haven’t been part of that to see how it works, except for the Summer Writing Festival, but I’d like to see more of that in action. The other issue with some of that is finding people who are good at your genre and also local in geography. The in-person group I attend now has very little experience in speculative fiction, as well as a few other things like poetry and children’s literature.

What do you do to critique? How do you manage to get around the daily obstacles to get it done? Is it in person? Is it a group? Do you find people online? How have you worked with others within your genre and outside it to make the best of the criticism you receive?

Balance versus Focus

Sometimes, it feels like the two are definite opposites. I’m curious how other people handle the many irons in the fire. Do you follow one, the most important, and let the rest fall as it will? Do you just not worry about it? Do you manage to keep each one just far enough from the flames to keep it from burning?

I’m struggling with my goals for the school year and where to place the emphasis. I always have too much going on to just let one thing be my entire world. Funny how easy it is to roll with the school year for goals when I tutor students. It’s nice to have the summer, then get back in gear for fall.