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Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1

Happy New Year! Get Ready For Your Best Writing Year Yet! – Part 1 17


“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” 
 Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

WHAT DO YOU DREAM OF being or achieving in your writing life? As the calendar flips to a new year, are you looking forward to new opportunities to bring those dreams to life?

Movies and fairytales aside, we know that dreams aren’t fulfilled by wishing upon them. If you want to achieve your dreams, you must do more than dream. You must set the full focus of your will — your intention — on what you want, and then you must act. Put another way, you can only arrive at your desired destination if you pack your bags and get on the road.

Today, I’d like to invite you to think about where you want to go and how you will get there. No matter the level or extent of your writing desire — from wanting to establish a journaling or creative writing practice to finishing that memoir or novel you’ve been working on — it’s all doable. And I can show you how.

To that end, over the next few posts I’m going to share with you what I do each year to set and accomplish my goals — and why my process works. I use these steps to set goals for all areas of my life, including writing/publishing, spiritual, relationship, emotional, physical/health, and financial. And I achieved 95% of my personal and professional goals this last year.

For this series, I’m going to focus on only one area: writing/publishing. You may choose to separate writing and publishing into two separate goal areas. For me, these tend to blend together, so I think of them as one.

You’ll need to arrange a quiet place and time to work through the following exercises. The time needed will vary, but I would give myself at least an hour to start. And you don’t need to do this all at once — you can take several sessions.

Ready? Let’s get started . . .

(1)

Set your overarching intention (focus) for the year.

Our goals do not live in a bubble of their own, outside the totality of our lives. If we want to grow in any area of our lives, we need to understand what we want most and who we want to Be in the world. So before forming goals for any area of your life, get out your journal and freewrite your answers to the following questions:

  • What quality to I want to infuse into my life and into all my decisions this year?
  • What quality do I need most in my life at this time?

Once you have written about what you want in your life, choose the quality that resonates most for you and distill that quality into one word.

This word will be your guiding principle, your focus of intention for the year.

Last year, my guiding principle was “balance.” I wanted (and needed) more balance between the personal and professional areas in my life. Keeping my focus on balance all year helped me make important decisions along the way, including what to keep and what to let go of doing. It gave me permission to take better care of myself and my relationships.

This year, my overarching focus is “perspective,” which is about seeing the bigger picture and seeing things from different angles, as if from an eagle’s point of view.

(2)

Write down your “big rock” goal.

You’ve probably heard of the “big rocks” concept, made famous by Stephen R. Cover, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The idea is that your life is like a glass jar that you fill up with all of your daily tasks, both important and routine. The important tasks are your “big rocks” and the routine, less important tasks are like pebbles. If you fill your jar with pebbles, you won’t have any room for your big rocks. But if you place your big rocks in the jar first, then you’ll be able to fill in the spaces with the pebbles.

At the top of a new journal page, write your answer to the following question:

If I could achieve just ONE thing in my writing life this year, what would it be?

What would be the one thing you would feel happy achieving as a writer, even if you accomplished nothing else?

Be specific. “Writing more” is not a goal — it’s a wish. In order for a goal to have power, it must be SMART, which is an acronym for the following characteristics: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Rewarding, and Time-dependent (or Trackable).

Goals can include either accomplishing something or establishing desired habits. I will give examples of both types of goals as I explain each aspect of a SMART goal.

In order to be SMART, your goal must answer the following questions:

  • What, specifically do I want to accomplish? OR What habit do I want to establish?

    Achievement goal: Last year, the What of my “big rock” goal was to “complete my second memoir, Accidental Jesus Freak,” which I’d already been working on for a year and a half. Your goal might be to “write three personal essays” or “publish two short stories,” or “write 30,000 words.” Do you see how specific your goal needs to be?

    Habit goal: But what if you don’t have an achievement type of goal like those I’ve just described? What if you really just want to write more often? This type of goal — establishing a habit — is just as valid as an achievement goal. And it also needs to be stated in a very specific way. In this case, the What is, simply, “to write.”
  • When do I want to accomplish it by? OR How often do I want to do this habit?

    Achievement goal: The When for my memoir was “by December 31st.” Yours could be “by June 30th” or any other date you choose.

    Habit goal: Using the example above, I might want to write “a minimum of 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week,” or “5 minutes per day, 7 days per week.” Again, do you see how adding this level of specificity helps to define exactly what you will do?
  • How will I know when my goal is complete?

    Achievement goal: You need to define what constitutes “done.” I defined completion of my memoir as when it had been edited, proofread, and was ready for print and ebook formatting.

    Habit goal: In the case of a habit goal, define when you will consider the habit as integrated into your life. So, for my writing habit, I might define it as: When I have consistently written 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week, for six months, I will consider that I have established this habit.”

“The starting point of all achievement is DESIRE. Keep this constantly in mind. Weak desire brings weak results, just as a small fire makes a small amount of heat.”   Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich

  • Why do I want to achieve this goal?

Your Why, your motivation for wanting to accomplish this goal is SUPER important. Without strong motivation, you will not achieve your goal.

My Why for writing Accidental Jesus Freak included the following:

– I want to feel proud of myself for having completed this second book.

– I want to reveal the deeper, inner truth of my journey, discover its universality and what it has to teach me and others

– I want to have it ready for launch in March of 2018

What are your Whys? Write them down below your What, When, and How statements.

  • How will my focus of intention help me to achieve my goal?

    This question might be a little harder to answer, as our goals don’t always have an easy correlation to our broader focus of intention. In my case, focusing on balance helped me stay the course on my one big writing goal for the year. I had other goals, but focusing on balance helped me to adjust my activities throughout the year and still accomplish what needed to be done.

    If you’re having difficult answering this question, set a timer for 10 minutes and freewrite, starting with the following fill-in-the-blanks prompt: “My focus of intention on __________ will help me accomplish my goal of ___________ by ____________.

 

This is the first of a 12-part series on writing goals and productivity. In Part 2 of Get Ready for Your Best Writing Year! We will cover how to establish your goal’s action plan as well as how to keep your goal visible and in front of you on a regular basis.


Amber Starfire offers coaching, classes, and books about writing at writingthroughlife.com

Remaking Ourselves Through Writing Memoir

“I write to make sense of my life.” John Cheever

I recently taught my last memoir workshop at the Fromm Institute, and I’ll be sorry to leave the cocoon we had created there. For those who aren’t familiar with the Fromm, it’s an institution for older adults and features lectures from outstanding Bay Area emeritus professors on a variety of subjects that include psychology, literature, philosophy, science, theology, history, art, music, politics and creative writing.

This term, I was hired for the writing portion, “Reminiscence: A Creative Writing Workshop.” Years ago, I had taught a weeklong autobiography class for what was then Elderhostel. It was an enriching experience, diving into the past with these older adults and returning with gems from their depths.

The Fromm class has been similar. I’ve structured it so that students who haven’t done much writing can still benefit. There’s a great freedom for them and myself since I’m not grading their assignments. Nor am I focusing on grammar and punctuation errors. Content leads, and their submissions all focus on different aspects of writing an engaging narrative based on prompts that help them focus on important times in their lives.

We’ve looked at character and how to make the people who inhabit our memoirs come alive for readers that don’t know them. But characters don’t live in ether, so my students have also written about places that have nourished them in some way. Neither character nor place would be vivid without incorporating details that appeal to all of our senses. Sensory detail also sets the mood of a writing piece (exciting, happy, cheerful, gloomy, frightening, depressing, suspenseful, calm, peaceful). Since we apprehend the world through our senses, it’s essential that we include the kind of description that evoke them and also capture our imaginations.

I’ve been impressed not only by the quality of the writing I’ve seen from these mainly inexperienced writers but also from their willingness to reveal themselves during small group critique sessions. They’ve been generous in their praise of one another’s work and skilled readers, making helpful suggestions for improving the writing. But most important, they have been transforming themselves through recovering these experiences and recasting them. As James Longenbach states in Modern Poetry After Modernism, “…any account of the past, whether private or historical, is an act of personal making.” What a privilege It’s been to be present at all of these mini-births!

Lily Iona MacKenzie, author of Fling! and All This

Lily’s blog 
Fling! audiobook
Amazon Fling!
Lily’s Facebook page

@lilyionamac
Curva Peligrosa, a novel, coming in 2017

Freefall: A Divine Comedy, a novel, coming in 2018


Fictionalizing your life, or how autobiographical is your fiction?

SCN novelist and lifewriter Judy Alter looks back on a book she wrote three decades ago, and finds in it pieces of her autobiography.


I’ve been proofing Mattie, the first adult novel I ever wrote and winner of the 1988 Western Writers of America Spur Award for best traditional novel. It’s been available on Kindle forever and done well at 99 centers–#64 today in Kindle ebooks, Genre Fiction, Medical. I’m going to post it to other platforms and thought after almost thirty years it deserved another proofing.

Mattie’s story is loosely based on the life of Georgia Arbuckle Fix, a pioneer woman physician in western Nebraska at the turn of the twentieth century. I didn’t know at the time that Mari Sandoz had also fictionalized Fix’s life in Miss Morissa, and the comparison by loyal Sandoz devotees was not kind to me.

It’s intimidating to re-read something I wrote all those years back. My style is different—the 167-page book is all long chapters and lots of space breaks, and did I really begin every other sentence with “So”? I’m correcting only egregious errors; why mess with success?

The content is more interesting though. I was seven or eight years out of a marriage that started wonderfully and eventually disintegrated. Mattie goes through the same experience two-thirds of the way through the novel; her once-passionate marriage is gradually chipped away until she and her husband, Em Jones, can barely stand each other. Mattie’s retrospective wisdom about the situation struck me—I didn’t realize that I had learned that much from my own marriage, but, darn, sometimes Mattie really seems to understand life. Wish I’d put that knowledge to work years ago

At the time I wrote, I was raising teen-age daughters, with all the angst that involves. The angst is reflected in Mattie’s rebellious daughter, Nora. Only Nora never reaches the wonderful reconciliation my girls did—they are now best friends with each other and with me. When I wrote, we hadn’t reached that reconciliation either, and the angst was much too familiar.

Late in the book, Mattie takes into her home and bed a drifter named Eli, skilled carpenter, a good man, but not one to settle down. I took a week off from work to write the last chapter. The words came in a rush as though someone was channeling me who knew the story. Eli simply rides off after a while, moving on as is his nature, leaving Mattie devastated again—and puzzled. At the time, I was seeing a man I liked well enough to envision a future with him—he liked my kids and wasn’t scared of them, rare in suitors. He was gentle, kind and fun. But as I wrote those last pages, I had a flash of clarity: he too would be moving on. He was no longer going to be a part of my life story. We were together that night—celebrating our joint birthdays, I recall—and I was sad. But I couldn’t tell him why.

Scary thought, especially for mystery writers, if your writing not only reflects your past but predicts your future.

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everyone.


Judy is the author of two mystery series—Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café mysteries—plus the stand-alone, The Perfect Coed. In a long career, she has written fiction and nonfiction for adults and young adults, primarily about women in the American West, and garnered several awards. Judy retired as director of TCU Press, a position she held for 23 years. She is a member of SCN; a member of Sisters in Crime and the SinC subgroup, the Guppies; and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Texas Literary Hall of fame. She edits her neighborhood newspaper and welcomes her fifth-grade grandson every school day. A single mother of four and grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth with her lively Bordoodle puppy, Sophie. Visit her blog and her website.

The Power of Journaling

I started journaling during my thirties while my husband, our two sons, and I lived for nineteen months on a remote island in the South Pacific. I felt so isolated there that the best I could do was write long rants every morning before the boys woke up. Happily those rants turned into my first published article after we returned home.

I started to journal for keeps when our older son Paul was diagnosed as bipolar in 1993 and continued after his suicide in September 1999. Journaling became an obsession and a balm. It became my therapy, a daily habit. Writing through my grief totally turned my life around. It helped me heal because it allowed me to put my pain on the page. And it still is. I journal every day.

At first I journaled in long hand in a notebook. Now I use the computer — the notebook went by the wayside after I left one on an airplane. I just tap away with no stopping for editing. It’s total stream of consciousness. Also, the computer gives me the ability to have complete privacy — the key to honest and open journaling. I keep my journal entries in a password-protected locked document file.

Lately, I’ve learned about several other journaling techniques by participating in journal chats and Facebook journaling groups. It is so inspiring to find out how and why other people journal and how much they’ve benefitted from it.

One technique is making lists of what I’ve accomplished in the past week or so, and what I have to do in the next few days. Keeping this action journal holds me accountable — even if I’m only accountable to myself. It gives me a way to take charge and move from thinking into living and doing &madash; not just waiting for things to happen to me.

Another technique is the confidence building practice of making declarations. Some I’ve made are:

  • I Am a poet
  • I Am a published author
  • I Am creative

I can leave these declarations as is or write a journal entry about each one at future times.

Another journal technique is to write in pen in a lined or unlined notebook and draw pictures and add quotes and clippings to accompany the words on the page. My niece’s collage journals look like works of art. Other journaling ideas include: writing down one good thing every day, keeping a dream journal, recording things that make us laugh, and creating a drawing or painting instead of words to express our thoughts. How we journal is our choice.

Most everyone I know has good and bad stuff in their lives. I learned journaling is a way to come to grips with that. Journaling through my grief gave me a wonderful gift. I discovered I could write, and I created a book from the memories I wrote down in my journal entries. I recommend everyone try it and learn the power that can be gained from journaling.

I Never Gave Up My Dream

I never gave up on my dream. That is the key. All it took was the persistence to never give up.

Early on in my life I thought of myself as a journalist and creative writer, but after college I settled for something more practical–technical writing and editing in the aerospace industry. And while I was even able to convince myself that I would never be able to achieve my dream, it kept gnawing on me.

While I worked my day job as a technical writer for over twenty-eight years and in a few other jobs as a real estate salesperson, programmer, and fundraiser for non-profits, I took creative detours. I learned to draw and paint, I learned to sew, I made needlepoint pillows, I quilted and knit. And, I co-authored a non-fiction book, Blue Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs–where the writing was just a little less technical than my work in aerospace. I did anything to keep my creative juices flowing, until I could stand it no longer. I needed to reconnect with my passion to write.

It finally took a tragedy in my life to help me realize my dream.

When my son was diagnosed bipolar and our family was going through the emotional upheaval his illness created in all our lives, I started to journal. Writing about my son’s illness and later about his suicide death helped me put my pain on the page–the only place I could show my true feelings. Keeping my fingers moving either across the page on or the computer keyboard became my calming and healing balm.

I also took writing workshops. At first I felt insecure about my creative writing abilities because they had lain dormant for so long. That changed when I took a workshop called, “Writing about Our Lives” at Esalen in Big Sur, California in the late 1990s. I wrote about my misgivings about ever being able to make the transition technical writer to creative writer: “My writing is so factual, so plain, so devoid of descriptors, feelings, and imagination.” And that was okay. When a private instructor in Los Angeles taught me to “write like you talk,” I knew I was on my way.

Once I got into the writing groove I never stopped. I had a memoir published culled from my early journal entries and poems, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir about Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide. Even finding a publisher took perseverance. Sixty-eight rejection letters later I found the perfect small press to publish my book.

And now, I still write something every day. I journal and write poetry regularly. I write for my own blog, and I am well on my way to completing my first novel. Instead of worrying about my lack of creative abilities, I took the power within me to accomplish my dream. My son’s death gave me that strength and power.


For more from Madeline Sharples, visit her blog.

The Grip of the Gripe: Shutting the Duck Up

I’m not a griper, at least not an out-loud griper. My griping is done in the privacy of my own little head–it’s all internal chatter. I get hooked into playing a Spiral Mind Game that keeps me in a swirling ain’t-it-awful loop. By the end of the day, it has successfully sucked the life out of me.

I lose my true aim, and feel like I should just give up. Ugh.

I know. Griping about a situation is a waste of time yet, there I was, doing it. I was complaining, grumbling, grousing, and, my favorite, whining.

“But I promised myself I would write daily. I’ll never get the draft of You’ll Never Find Us finished,” I whined in my journal. I thought I had paved the way to easy writing by reducing obligations and saying no to meetings unless they furthered my book and/or my health.

It sounded good at the time. Here’s the reality of it.

It has been a frustrating ride writing this book. Life still gets in the way. When I fell off the proverbial writing-wagon the chatter in my head kicked in almost instantly. It sounded like the quacking of a duck telling me: give up, you’ll never write the book, it’ll always end up on the back burner, you’re not good enough.

I needed help to shut the duck up.

And then the weirdest thing happened.

As I continued to journal, whining about the plight of my book and questioning my worth, who shows up on the page but a”voice” I’d never heard before. It was Big Mama: bold, full-bodied, with a loud mouth and very funny.

You know what she said? She said, “You need to let go of that garbage, girl. Get a grip! Stop listening to that quacker.”

Startled, I asked, “Who are you?”

“I’m your new best self. You already got enough crazy voices in that head of yours. You don’t need another one. You don’t need permission or anybody’s approval to write your book, and you sure don’t need to work your fingers to the bone proving your worth. You’re a worthy girl, you hear me?”

I told her I felt like I had a new spine.

“You’re my baby now and we’re gonna take baby steps when the crazies start getting to you. Got it? If they show up, just ask yourself, is this making me feel better about myself? If not, shut them up and start writing. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”

“Wait,” I wrote. “What’s your name?”

It was as if I could hear a big, deep belly laugh when she responded, “Honey, just call me Rita.”

I got a grip and plan to keep my aim true…and write that book. Rita and her sense of humor have saved me.

What saves you?

If you hear yourself repeatedly complaining about the same thing, I’ll send Rita your way and have her get in your face, or at least in your head.

Those other voices don’t make you smile. Rita will–if you’ll listen to her.


Jeanne Guy Gatherings
Explore~Reframe~Restory Your Life
Reimagining Your Life Through Reflective Writing
www.jeanneguy.com

Where To Submit Your Work

Writing Personal Essays or Life Stories? Here are some places to start your search for the right audience and/or publisher. Click on the link for more information–save to your favorites if the site looks useful.

Chicken Soup for the Soul, http://www.chickensoup.com/ Story Circle Network, www.storycircle.org The Sun Magazine, http://thesunmagazine.org/

WOW: Women on Writing, http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/

TheWriteLife: http://thewritelife.com/19-websites-magazines-want-publish-personal-essays/

Interested in publishing your work yourself?

Balboa Press, www.balboapress.com/

Create Space, https://www.createspace.com/

Lulu, http://www.lulu.com/

Amazon Publishing Services or Barnes & Noble Self Publishing

Here are two hybrid publishers (they do some of the work a traditional publisher does, but not all)

Outskirts Press, www.outskirtspress.com

She Writes Press, http://shewritespress.com/

If you prefer a small press, do some research: Type your genre + “small press” into a search engine. Example: Memoir + small press. See what comes up and follow the directions given. Approach small presses on your own if they say it is okay. You need an agent for the larger ones.

If you are seeking an agent who will represent your work to a larger house, type in “agents seeking” + your genre and see what comes up. Example: Agents seeking romance

Another strategy: go to several bookstores. Find where your book would be shelved. Look in the acknowledgements section of the books there to see who has represented work in your genre and query those agents. Tell them how you learned about them.

There are resources listed quarterly at Writer Advice. Go to http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2. Or go to www.writeradvice.com and click on Contests & Markets. While you are there, go to the home page, www.writeradvice.com, to find out about our current contest. We are known for our sound and solid feedback.

Additional Places Calling for Submissions & Giving Advice:

69 Poetry Contests That Pay Really Well, http://www.ardorlitmag.com/poetry-contests.html

Duotrope, https://duotrope.com/ (You need to become a member)

Funds for Writers, http://fundsforwriters.com/

New Pages, http://www.newpages.com/

No Fee Chapbook Publishers, https://trishhopkinson.com/2015/02/19/no-fee-chapbook-publishers-and-other-chapbook-listings/

Poets & Writers Classifieds, http://www.pw.org/classifieds

Writer Advice, http://www.writeradvice.com/cm2

Writer’s Digest, http://www.writersdigest.com/submission-guidelines

The Writer, http://www.writermag.com/

In case it sounds too good to be true, here are a couple of watchdogs:

This one gives advice about which editors, agents, and publishers to avoid: http://critters.org/c/pubtips.ht

This one warns which Contests & Services to avoid and gives good reasons: https://winningwriters.com/the-best-free-literary-contests/contests-to-avoid

When in doubt, use your best judgment. Weigh the benefits against the cost. Read contracts carefully. Remember that the publishing world is evolving.


B. Lynn Goodwin owns Writer Advice . She’s written You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers (Tate Publishing) and Talent (Eternal Press).  Goodwin’s work has appeared in Voices of Caregivers; Hip Mama; Small Press Review; Dramatics Magazine; The Sun; GoodHousekeeping.com; PurpleClover.com; and elsewhere. She is working on a memoir about getting married for the first time at 62.