For Writers

On Writing Resolutions and Goals… and Puppies

For many years here on the Mixed Up Files there is an annual pre-New Years post where MUF bloggers list their writing and reading resolutions. At the end of 2020 I knew exactly what I would put, which is that I wanted to keep a tally of everything I read throughout the year.  I also took some time to privately write down for myself what I had accomplished writing-wise in 2020, and some specific writing goals for 2021. Like many people, and notwithstanding immediate evidence to the contrary, I was hopeful for 2021. Despite all the fear and uncertainty and sickness of 2020, I felt like we had gotten through it and things would surely move forward.

Oops

Well, my public MUF resolution went down the toilet fairly quickly—like, within days—the ones when my kids didn’t go back to school after winter break.

My state of the union from this time last year

In January of 2021, exactly one year ago, I wrote to my editors to check in about the draft of my novel I was working on. This is part of what I wrote:

“It seems like everyone I know who wasn’t sick the last time around is sick now or has been sick in the last 5-6 weeks. Thankfully they seem to be getting through it ok but the hospitals are overwhelmed and even with the vaccine rollout the government is indicating that schools will be closed until the end of March. My kids are in kindergarten, 4th, 6th and 9th grades and to be completely honest I am drowning.

Last week I learned about the solar system for 4th graders, how rivers flow, how to write a beginner’s code in microbit, what an algorithm is to a 5 year old, the solar system for 6th graders, and how King William used the feudal system to consolidate power. I have broken my head on 4th grade math and worked on an essay on Of Mice and Men. I go between feeling like I got this, and my kids will be ok, to feeling like my kids are being emotionally stunted and that I am being graded and must be the dumbest parent in the class, often within the same hour. Their lunch break is at 4 different times spanning 2 hours. Getting them (and myself) outside during daylight is a challenge. My son in 6th grade with ADHD presents special challenges (including to my sanity!) At the same time I really know that we are exceptionally privileged that, among other things, in the three schools my kids are at the online provision is pretty good, how much most of the teachers care and are working their butts off, and that I am able to be home to manage their schooling.

The other good news is that I am still able to find time and mental clarity to work on HONEY if I wake up very early and this method seemed to work the first time around, so this is really all to say that I am working, but pretty slowly.”

 

Metaphorical toilet times… And yet…

Art by Rose Metting; Website by Websydaisy

Things definitely got worse before they started getting better. With particular grimness I remember the six days we spent without heat when my boiler broke while London experienced several snowstorms and an unusual cold snap. Despite that, my draft did get done. When I sat down last week to read my goals from 2021 I was surprised to see that I had been able to meet most of them. I wrote the amount of blog posts for the Mixed Up Files and reviews for the mock book award Sydney Taylor Shmooze I’d hoped to, I wrote a picture book text and short story, I took a romance writing course and started my own romance novel for fun. There are a few things I didn’t do: some because they made sense to delay, some because my focus shifted onto something else that made sense to take its place. There were several disappointments about writing things I’d hoped would work out but didn’t. (At least not yet.) One thing I especially love is my new author website, which looks exactly how I dreamed my author website would one day look.

 

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html

One doesn’t need to have Maslow’s hierarchy of needs memorized however to know how impossible it is to think forward proactively when your immediate goals are survival. In the months my kids were at home in the winter of 2021 it certainly felt all-consuming and while this was not the same as having food or shelter insecurity— there were many days when the goal was simply to get to the end of the day. During this time I also felt that my goals had negative and positive effects: they stressed me out, amplifying my frustration–how on earth would I accomplish anything? While at the same time spurring me on to try: I really want my book published so the only way to accomplish that is to wake up at 5 am and work on it for two hours before the day starts with the kids. Trust me when I say I never thought I would be the kind of person to do that, but I did.

 

Resources and Advice for Goals-Setting:

In case anyone is interested in the research and advice on goals setting, a google search literally of “goals setting” came up with a plethora of information and tools.

  • Here is one good example of why and how to set goals.
  • And this is a great post from MUF contributor Jenn Brisendine about creating “goal statements.”
  • I especially found the life vision exercise of the rocking chair an interesting way to think about long term goals: “Picture yourself in retirement, thinking back on your life from your rocking chair. What accomplishments will you be most proud of? What will you most regret? These are your most important answers to the question, ‘Why is goal setting important?’”
  • Also obvious yet profound is the idea that goals with measurable means of success give us meaning and purpose which is a key to happiness—or more importantly, satisfaction.While for many years when I had little kids, and especially when I moved countries, I paused my lifelong hobby of knitting and crocheting, I think it’s no coincidence that in 2021 I finished knitting the cardigan I’d started during the first lockdown, made half of a new one, completed a crocheting project, and also completed two needlepoint projects. I learned to touch type! (and I’m slowly trying to get fast enough to really use it when I’m writing. )

2022 goals in the poo bags… And yet?

All that being said, bang on trend for once I started the first week of 2022 with a(nother) bout of Covid—then I spent a week recovering—and then this week my family got a puppy. Which is to say… all my intentions to look back at 2021 and make goals for 2022 have been consumed by life, especially said puppy. But if the past two years have taught me anything it is playing both a short game and a medium-long game. By which I mean, being aware of deadlines and goals (eg doing some last-minute revisions on my debut middle grade novel Honey and Me, coming out with Scholastic this fall 🙏) that must be met and take priority over everything else; and having the clear-eyed discipline to make them happen if at all possible (while being aware and accepting that at certain times things just won’t be possible) even if it’s slightly slower than hoped for (see above re Winter 2021.) And also being aware of more medium-term goals (say, those for the year, or the next few months), that can go in your back pocket while you’re dealing with the short term goals—they’re not necessarily visible but you can feel them on your butt. You might take them out later than you’d hoped, but by the end of the year it’s amazing to see how much that pocket has emptied—and things have moved forward.

How about you?

I’m curious how anyone reading this might use goals or wish to use them. Do you find them helpful? How small do you make them? How measurable? Do you write them down? Do you give yourself deadlines or timeframes? Do you give yourself visual cues? How often do you check in on your progress? How often do you stop to set new goals? (Which is to remind everyone—myself especially—that goals don’t just have to be set at the beginning of the year.) How far down the road do you set goals for yourself? Any tips or things that worked especially well for you? Please share in the comments!

Wishing everyone a wonderfully productive 2022 in which pursuing your goals enables you to thrive.

Interview with Nancy Tandon, author of The Way I Say It

Books sometimes have a winding path to publication, and I’m always inspired when I hear those journeys. For the author, it can be such a difficult roller coaster to go through, but it reminds us that when we work hard and persevere, our stories will find homes.

Headshot of author Nancy Tandon

Nancy Tandon

My most recent favorite story like this is from Nancy Tandon. Nancy and I met in 2017 when we were both anticipating our debut books to come out the following year. Mine, THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST, came out in June 2018, but Nancy’s, THE WAY I SAY IT, came out from Charlesbridge yesterday!

And the best part is, Nancy now has a double-debut year, since her second middle-grade book, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is coming out from Aladdin on Aug. 2.

It’s a very inspiring and a perfect example of why “never give up” is always great advice for writers, so I’m thrilled to have Nancy on From the Mixed Up Files to talk about her journey.

Here’s what her two books are about:

THE WAY I SAY IT:

Rory still can’t say his r’s, but that’s just the beginning of his troubles. First Rory’s ex-best-friend Brent started hanging out with the mean lacrosse kids. But then, a terrible accident takes Brent out of school, and Rory struggles with how to feel.

Rory and his new speech teacher put their heads together on Rory’s r’s (not to mention a serious love of hard rock and boxing legend Muhammad Ali), but nobody seems to be able to solve the problem of Rory’s complicated feelings about Brent. Brent’s accident left him with brain-damage and he’s struggling. Should Rory stand up for his old friend at school–even after Brent failed to do the same for him?

THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT:

Twelve-year-old Parker has grown up in his family’s Home Away Inn, nestled on a wooded peninsula in Maine called Spruce Point. His best friend, Frankie, has been staying at the inn every summer for years with her family. Together, they’ve had epic adventures based out of a nearby old treehouse that serves as their official headquarters for Kids Confidential Meetings.

But lately, business at the inn hasn’t been great, and Parker is pretty sure he knows why. It’s long been rumored that Mrs. Gruvlig, one of the few year-rounders on Spruce Point, has unique abilities of the supernatural kind. And Frankie is absolutely sure she saw a ghost on Mrs. Gruvlig’s property! As more and more spooky happenings occur around the Point, Parker and Frankie are convinced Spruce Point has been officially cursed.

Samantha: Welcome to From the Mixed Up Files, Nancy. These books sound so great! Tell us about your inspirations for the two books you’ve got coming out this year.

Nancy: Thank you for having me here on the Mixed Up Files!

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Way I Say It by Nancy TandonMy former clinical work as a speech/language pathologist was the inspiration for THE WAY I SAY IT. In the outpatient setting, I worked with several kids with articulation disorders who specifically had trouble saying sounds in their first names. When I began to create my main character, I started with a question: What would middle school be like for a kid whose first name speech-sound difficulties persisted past early childhood?

My second novel, THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT, is my attempt to capture the magic and atmosphere of my children’s summer vacations on the coast of Maine. They were together with their cousins, and I watched in awe as the kids grew and changed each year as they explored the gorgeous natural playground of the peninsula where my parents retired. Another inspiration came from a news story I watched about kids with an uncommon allergy to the sun. The resilience of the kids in that interview stayed with me for years and kept coming back to my mind, almost insisting I do something with it! Finally, I did.

Samantha: We were originally in the same debut year, since your debut, THE WAY I SAY IT, was scheduled to come out in 2018 along with mine. What happened that pushed that book back?

Nancy: Ah yes, and I’ll never regret meeting you and the other wonderful 2018 debut authors!

But around that time, the small press that had bought my book was acquired as an imprint of a larger publisher. And the good news was, that new house was willing to take on my manuscript as part of the deal! I was relieved, happy, even excited about this chance to be published by a bigger house.

However, after a year of working to negotiate an addended contract, I still had not heard from my new editor. And the contract negotiations were spinning in circles. (At this point I was un-agented, and I had learned just enough from The Writer’s Legal Guide (a book I highly recommend) to know the offer on the table was not favorable to me). A while later, the second publisher decided not to move forward with my manuscript. My heart sank. I had told everyone I knew about this book deal. I had celebrated with champagne. And now, nothing.

Worse, I had to buy back the rights from the first publisher. (Which is completely on the up and up business-wise, by the way. And in truth, the editing done by that first house was worth the cost. But still, it was painful.) I was embarrassed, disheartened, and very close to giving up all together. I’d had a previous very enriching career as a speech/language pathologist. I began the process of reinstating my license.

Luckily, past me (the one who’d had a book contract and was all excited about kidlit) had signed up for two well-known New England spring conferences that year, NESCBWI and Whispering Pines. I forced myself to attend both.

After the New England conference, I earnestly studied the list of agents and editors who would be open to submissions from conference attendees and sent my work back out there. It felt like I was shouting into the wind, but at least I could still say I hadn’t given up. Not fully, not yet. Even though my heart did very much want me to.

The second conference, Whispering Pines, included a one-on-one consultation with an agent. I reached out with a plea to switch my original submission (the second novel I had been working on) to pages from my first (what I thought of now as failed) novel. The timing was early enough that the agent agreed.

That agent was Rachel Orr from Prospect Agency, who represented (among other amazing authors) a writing friend I’d met through the 2018 debut group: the one and only Samantha M Clark (The Boy, the Boat, and the Beast; Arrow)! You alerted Rachel ahead of time that she’d be meeting me and gave her the head’s up about my manuscript’s twisty past. It was absolutely an essential connection I’ll always be grateful for!

That meeting did not result in an offer of representation from Rachel. (I know! I wanted the story to go that way, too!) But, even better, it resulted in Rachel passing my work to a new agent at Prospect who responded to my work with the enthusiasm needed to take on a new client. I was agented at last!!

Samantha: Yay! I was happy to make that connection, and so glad it led to you signing with your agent. How did THE WAY I SAY IT find its new home with Charlesbridge?

Nancy: Karen Boss, an editor from Charlesbridge, was one of the editors I had submitted to as an NESCBWI attendee. After she reviewed my query and first chapters, she requested the full manuscript. Over the next several weeks, we exchanged emails as she kept me informed of where they were in the process. There were other in-house readers, and a presentation at their acquisitions meeting. Then finally it came. An email that made me shriek and cause a scene in the coffee shop where I was writing with a friend. Re: Offer…

This time, I didn’t have to negotiate the contract on my own, or spend money on a lawyer. My agent at the time, Emma Sector, made sure my interests were represented while also easing the process of getting back my rights to the work.

Everything looked great. Publication was set for 2021. I joined a third debut group. This was happening! But then, due to circumstances at the publishing house, the date of publication got pushed back to 2022. And then of course 2020 and 2021 happened, which weren’t great years to debut anyway (when you can, please show love to writers who did debut in the past two years!!). During this time, I also navigated an in-agency switch as Emma left agenting for a new adventure, and I gratefully landed in Charlotte Wenger’s web. And now: I have held my first novel in my hands. It is winging out into the world to have an adventure all its own. I’m at the copyedit stage of my second novel and am in love with the amazing cover art.

That is my very long answer to your short question! And yes, I can finally say: it was all worth it.

Bookcover for middle-grade novel The Ghost of Spruce Point by Nancy TandonSamantha: So wonderful! Unlike most debut authors, you’re now in the unique position of having two middle-grade novels coming out this year. Tell us how THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT found its way to Aladdin.

Nancy: In early 2019, I spent time revising GHOST with my then agent, Emma Sector, who is also a wonderful editor. She really helped me get the manuscript in top shape. She had a very targeted list of editors to submit to, and in fall 2019 THE GHOST OF SPRUCE POINT sold within a week of being on submission, confirming the old adage: publishing is weird!

Samantha: What were the biggest challenges for you over the last few years during this process?

Nancy: The number one biggest challenge for me in all of this was not giving up. I’m usually a “half-full” kind of a gal, but there were times when it just felt like it made no sense to keep going. And it was hard to explain to people outside of publishing what was going on, and at times I honestly felt embarrassed. Where was this book I’d been talking about for years?

But then I’d have a good writing morning. Or my critique group would give me another shot of encouragement. (Or just another shot, haha.) I was also watching the trajectories of my 2018 debut friends, and learning that publication isn’t “the end,” but just a stop on the journey.

Samantha: I love that. So true. Are there any things that have happened that, while difficult at the time, you feel happy about now?

Nancy: In hindsight, I am grateful for the entire string of events that THE WAY I SAY IT had to endure. The book is much stronger than it would have been – in part because I am a stronger and better writer than I was in 2016. And also because of all the talented people who had a hand in helping it and me along the way. I’m so grateful that I got to work with Karen Boss (editor at Charlesbridge) because she pushed me to elevate the work in ways I couldn’t have on my own.

Samantha: Do you have advice for other authors who are going through similar situations?

Nancy: Do. Not. Give. Up. And if you’ve read this far, you can always say to yourself, “well, what’s happening to me isn’t as bad as that one lady who was in four different debut groups. If she can keep going, so can I!”

But seriously, when you are feeling especially disheartened, dig down to the reasons you came to this endeavor in the first place. For me, it boils down to the joy of writing and the incredible people I have met. Once I placed those two things front and center, I knew I could go on forever, whether I was published or not.

Samantha: What are you doing to celebrate your double debut year?

Nancy: I am drinking all the champagne and saying YES to everything that comes my way! I’m also planning a special trip with my husband, who has been an incredible support through it all.

Samantha: Are you working on other future books that you can talk about yet?

Nancy: Nothing I can talk about yet, but I do have a manuscript for a third book that I’m revising. It’s another middle grade and I’m in love with the main character, a girl who is searching for home and finds it in an unexpected place. “Found family” is one of my favorite themes of all time!

Samantha: That sounds wonderful. And finding a home in an unexpected place is exactly what happened with your publishing career. Congratulations on your double-debut year.

Don’t Forget to Have FUN!

Happy 2022!! I hope this year is off to an amazingly good start for you all. Mine is so much better than last year (mostly because I’m not recovering from emergency gallbladder surgery). 😊

But seriously, I wanted to take this time to talk about Goal Setting. I mean, it’s the new year. We are all supposed to set a goal for the new year. Yes?

Goal-setting is a THING for the New Year. Whether you call them goals, resolutions, or intentions or  pick a word for the year, or just make a list of things you want to accomplish, it all boils down to one thing…  some action that you are supposed to be doing that makes you feel better.

That sounds wonderful. Okay. I’m in! In past new years’, I have had many different resolutions.

One year it was, to work less (If you know me, you know how ridiculous that resolution was. It didn’t last a week).

Then I moved onto choosing a saying for my year.  I chose “be less stressed”.  (also ridiculous).

The next year, I moved to a single word that was more positive, like “balance”.  (That was a good thing. It didn’t last, but it was a good idea.)

And let’s face it, the last two years have simply been taking a deep breath and racing to the finish  the year before you dropped. Am I right?

So, this year, I decided to try something completely different. Instead of picking something that I knew I could never live up to, thereby actually increasing my own stress (ironic, right?).

I’m not doing a resolution.

I’m not using a saying,

I’m DOING something.

Every Friday I am now calling “FUN Friday”.

(That’s just my name. You can choose your own.)

 

On FUN Friday, I am giving myself permission to do whatever I want– work on a new idea, write a new proposal, have an entire brainstorming day, write fiction (!), or just sit around and watch Star Trek the Next Generation all day. (Yes, I’m a Trekkie, but you can pick your own binge show).

Mostly, I’m making it a day to relax my brain and put deadlines aside. I’m hoping that will reduce the stress and frustration I feel at not being able to do all of the different things I want to explore. (Yes! That fiction book will be finished this year!)

How’s it going so far?

Well for one thing, it’s the second Friday of the year, and I’m STILL doing this! That right there tells me that the FUN Friday thing is a much better idea than any resolution or word for the year I ever picked.

And secondly, on the first FUN Friday that I ever did, I managed to relax enough and clear my brain so that a book idea that I had been trying to figure out for almost two years FINALLY broke through. (It was at 11 o’clock at night, right after I laid down to go to sleep, but hey, whenever it happens, is fine with us writers, right?)

SO, today is another FUN Friday!

What will I be doing today?

I don’t know.

The best part about a FUN Friday  is that I don’t plan for them. I wake up in the morning, and well, just do whatever I feel like. It’s very free-ing, especially for a person who normally goes through life at Mach 10 with her hair on fire!

 

What I say to all of you writers and really, anyone who reads this blog is: Don’t forget to HAVE FUN in your life!

I know it might make you roll your eyes with the amount of work, stress, and everything else you have to do. But if you take a day, an hour, a few minutes to just have fun, you won’t regret it. In fact, doing that, may even help you reduce your stress.

TGIF Everyone!

What will you do with your FUN Friday?