For Writers

Goal Statements (a.k.a. Resolutions) for Writers

Welcome to the New Year! What an excellent opportunity for us as writers and creative professionals to recharge, reboot, reflect, and resolve. Indeed, even as you wrap up the holiday season, it’s a great time to think about your writing resolutions and what’s ahead in your writing life.

Well-worded goal statements might be the key to achieving the objectives you seek in 2020. Once you have identified the areas of your writing in which you want improvement, it’s time to figure out strategically how to get there. With a little work, you can tailor your list of goal statements into a kind of personalized self-help guidebook that is user-friendly, adjustable, and most important, filled with achievable objectives. Here are some suggestions for how to construct great goal statements for your writing resolutions.

Strong goal statements, as most teachers and others in education will tell you, share several common traits:

  • They are specific: Resolving “to write more” is a good start; now get specific: how much more? In terms of time, page count, or both? New genres, new point of view, new style?
  • They are realistic: You might want “to make writing the #1 priority,” but realistically, the requirements of your day job, family, and other responsibilities probably preclude the notion of putting everything else on hold for your writing. Use more realistic language: “To spend twice as much time on revisions in the week as on social media.” “To balance an hour of chores/errands with an hour of writing time.”
  • They are measurable: Think numbers, values, dates, percentages. However…
  • They are flexible in range: Consider how uncomfortable it is to work out in jeans; stretchy waistbands are a thing for a reason. Instead of one set number for your weekly word count, include a range that allows for the unexpected machinations of daily life (“to reach between 500 and 800 new words every two days”). You’re still working on the goal, with a little “give” when necessary.
  • They are modifiable: Also, remember that what you are resolving to do is make an improvement; the ways in which you accomplish improvement can change mid-game if something isn’t working. So compose goal statements knowing that they can be both flexible and changeable.

Additionally, writers can take a cue from folks in acting and directing who formulate moment-to-moment, scene-to-scene objectives for theatrical character development. Character objectives should be

  1. Written with the use of an action verb. Avoid “To feel satisfied with….” and “To be better at…” Think instead of actions you can visualize yourself carrying out physically: to add, to read, to list, to plot, to brainstorm, to attend, to interview, to speak, to revise.
  2. Written in terms of a concrete “something,” not an abstract idea: an event, a person, yourself, your books, a place.

Taking into account these suggestions, a resolution like “to become more skilled at writing endings” transforms into a completable action with a concrete product : “To draft 2-3 possible endings for my WIP’s first chapter by the end of January.

The more carefully and thoughtfully you construct your writer’s resolutions, the more effectively they will work for you as motivators.

Speaking of motivators, the new year is the perfect time to try a new mini-reward for yourself when you meet a goal. Take a walk, try a new herbal tea, clean a drawer, listen to music or a podcast.

Another fresh-slate motivator: change up your surroundings, even just a little. Some writers swear by “settling in” to their writing zone (hot tea, check; fingerless gloves, check; clean desk, semi-check)—but how might you modify your surroundings for a fun difference, increased comfort, and more efficiency? Rearrange your desk bins; add a new pillow or throw to your writing chair; remove distracting clutter from your line of sight and replace with a photo or message.

Finally, if all this talk about resolutions and motivation seems overwhelming, you are not alone—it’s often that way for many writers. Consider treating yourself to a new craft book on writing, in that case, and set a goal to read just one chapter a week (or whatever works for you). Sometimes another writer’s instruction can both calm and inspire our writer-brains, and help us to define our own goals over time. Here are a few titles I hope to try myself this year:

The Business of Being a Writer by Jane Friedman

Behind the Book: Eleven Authors on Their Path to Publication by Chris Mackenzie Jones

The Elements of Style Workbook, a writing workbook based on the original The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

Making Readers Care with Psychology and Structure: The Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Totally Gripping Novels, Film and TV Scripts by David Thorpe

Good luck in 2020, no matter what path your writing resolutions take. Happy New Year!

My Favorite Writing Tools

Favorite Writing ToolsIt’s the end of the year. For most people, the changing of the calendar is a time to take stock of where you’ve been and to figure out where you want to go. Successes are counted; vision boards are created; goals are written; and a shiny new year of possibility is just waiting for the clock to strike midnight.

It’s a hopeful time.

This year, I decided not to wait for the new year to revamp my writing life. I dove in early – not with the stock-taking or the goal-setting components though. I’m already pretty clear about where I’ve been and where I’d like to get. Instead, I focused on the regular sit-down-and-write parts of the job. What’s working? What’s not? And are there some writing tools I can use to make all of it easier?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying things out. I’ve created some rituals to help make the transition to writing quicker and easier and I’ve gotten rid of some tools/habits that just aren’t working. I’ve also played with some new tools to see what might make me more efficient and more organized. I thought I’d share my current writing tool box with you all as a little New Year’s gift, with the hope that you might find something on my list that will make writing a little easier for you too.

This Year’s Top Writing Tools

Evernote:

People have suggested this program to me forever, and I’ve resisted, whole-heartedly, until this month when my computer crashed, and I lost a ton of writing-research bookmarks and links.

So I gave in and tried the free version of Evernote. Now, I’m a little bit hooked.

Evernote is a cloud-based note-taking application that lets you clip web articles, save picture, take notes and generally organize your life and your projects across all of your devices. For someone like me who failed at Scrivener and never remembers to use One Note, Evernote’s a bit of a miracle. Now my web links, random thoughts, beat sheet, and character sketches are all in one, easy-to-search place.

At least everything except the things I hand write. Yep, I still like to write things down. Journals, sticky notes, legal pads – story ideas, character sketches, sudden bursts of inspiration are scattered throughout my house. So this month, I cleaned it up. Sticky notes get typed into Evernote. So does legal pad planning. Everything else goes into the journal dedicated to my work in progress – and it’s all dated and tabbed so I can easily see what was actually a useful idea and what was just me rambling along. One thing hasn’t changed, though. I’m picky about my hand writing tools. They have to feel good and be exactly the right size, large enough to write fast and loose in and small enough to fit in my purse. My favorite place for project notebooks and a solid pen is:

Peter Pauper Press:

Their notebooks are solid and durable and the paper is thick, so colored ink and highlighters don’t bleed through. Their pens are pretty, just heavy enough, and easy (and cheap) to refill. I’ve been using their notebooks and pens for years now, and it’s one part of my writing system that I’m not going to change.

The next tool, however, is a huge change from my usual writing work. You see, I’m one of those writers who likes it quiet. I don’t have novel playlists or soundtracks, and I don’t write while the TV is keeping me company in the background. I don’t need complete silence though, coffee house chatter is fine – and every so often I’ll even break out one of those ambient noise apps and write to a rainstorm or some ocean waves. But all that changed the other day when I was reminded of the power of binaural beats. I’ve used Frequency Following Response in my hypnosis practice many times, but I’ve never used it to help with my own writing focus.

Brainwave Entrainment

Brainwave entrainment is basically listening to two specific sound frequencies at the same time. These frequencies trick your brain into creating a third frequency, a binaural beat, that helps lead your brain into a desired state – relaxed, meditative, focused, alert, etc. Admittedly, the whole thing is a little woo and the science on it is pretty much a big maybe right now. But lots of people swear by it, and I’ve noticed that if I listen to the right frequencies for a few minutes (paired with some ambient sounds like a waterfall or ocean waves) when I start a writing session, I slip into a work state more quickly than if I just sit down and try to write. There’s a lot of interesting articles about it on the internet and some free apps/YouTube videos to check out if you’re interested. Just know, it’s not for everyone.

The last thing on my list is my go-to inspirational book. I know a lot of people turn to Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird with things get tough – and I love it, too, but my go-to break-out-of-a-slump book is one by novelist Steven Pressfield.

The War of Art

It’s a small book and a quick read.  And it’s usually the tough love reminder I need to walk through my fear and get back to work.

So, that’s my current list of favorite writing tools. I’m still testing out a couple more – like the list-making application Trello and a bullet journal style calendar/day planner. Maybe I’ll update this post when I’ve sorted those out. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favorite writing tools. What can’t you live without? And what are you going to change or try this year to make the day-to-day work go smoother? Please share in the comments below!

A Gift Giving Guide for Authors

You say there’s an author in your life and a holiday is fast approaching? No worries, we’ve got a list for that! For many of these ideas, I’m indebted to brainstorming sessions with my critique-mates and the Mixed-Up Filers.

Books!

At the top of the list, since authors are readers too, you can’t go wrong with something of the printed variety, preferably delivered with the following message: “I got this for you from a local independent bookseller.”

  • Reference Materials – How about a nice leatherbound dictionary? Or a dictionary/thesaurus set? For a style guide, many people swear by Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, while others prefer the gold standard that is Merriam-Webster’s Concise Dictionary of English Usage.
  • Books About Writing – The usual suspects include On Writing by Stephen King, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, as well as the long-awaited Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, based on the screenwriting books of Blake Snyder.
  • Professional Development – The current year’s Writer’s Market is a definitive guide for finding a book publisher. Also available from Writer’s Digest Books is the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, Poet’s Market, and Guide to Literary Agents.

  • Guilty Pleasures – That rare out-of-print edition from their childhood, a signed edition from a favorite author, or an ARC from a promising upcoming title. For author/readers who love Star Wars like I do, Wrapped In A Ribbon has a great list of gift ideas from a galaxy far, far away.

Book Accessories

  • Bookends – Just the thing to keep reference materials at your author’s fingertips on the desk as they work.

  • Bookmarks – Because dog-earing the corners of a book is a sacrilege.
  • Booklights – Authors have many special powers, but seeing in the dark is usually not one of them.

Office Embellishments

  • Mini-Fridge – Dorm style!
  • Electric kettle or mug warmer – For a beverage that won’t go cold.

  • Screen wipes – Because monitors tend to smudge when you bang your forehead against them.
  • Wireless keyboard/mouse – Because sometimes you just need to cut the cord.
  • Second monitor – Because Facebook and Twitter are less distracting if they have their own space.
  • Inspirational Calendar

  • Printer/Ink – Those CMYK ink cartridges that are always running out make a practical gift.
  • Typewriter – Fun, personal, classy, antique typewriters can still be found in working condition. They are amazing to type on and inspiring to even just gaze upon.
  • Wall Art – Whether an inspirational poster or a framed cover, book page, or shadow-boxed paperback.

On the Go

  • Notebooks – Big ones, small ones, sketch pads, and a waterproof notebook for ideas that strike in the shower or bath!

  • Pens – Fountain pens, gel pens, quill & ink, waterproof, or the huge box of ballpoints that everyone needs.

  • Headphones or speakers – If your author compiles a book soundtrack or has a preferred channel of writing music, noise-canceling headphones are a must.
  • Laptop stickers – To personalize their writing tools.
  • Fidget Spinners – Because for some people, ideas flow best when their hands are distracted.

Software

  • Scrivener – A word processing, formating, brainstorming, outlining, and ebook rendering program.
  • World Anvil – A browser-based world-building service.

Educational

  • MasterClass – I’ve heard good things about the class by Neil Gaiman. Other lecturers include Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stein, Judy Blume, James Patterson…

Ergonomics!

  • Comfy Chair
  • Bright Lamp
  • Footrest
  • Standing Desk
  • Lumbar Support Cushion
  • Carpal Tunnel Supportive Wristpad

Wearables!

  • Book-Themed Shirts – I like the designs at Threadless, but there are many others.

  • Book-Themed Scarf – This one has text from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and can be found at storiarts.com

  • Book-Themed Jewelry – Lots of fun stuff on Etsy.

  • Book-Themed Skirt – One such as can be found at ModCloth.
  • Book-Themed Socks – As can be found at Out of Print.

  • These Fingerless Gloves Called “Wristies” Which My Critique-Mate Swears By.

Swag!

  • Buttons – With their book cover on them
  • Stickers – With their book cover on them
  • Bookmarks – With their book cover on them
  • Business Cards – In a fancy box or card holder? Yes!

Charitable Donation

  • A list of book-themed charities compiled by Caroline Bologna includes organizations that promote childhood literacy, make books available to children and communities in need, and bring families together to bond over books. A donation in your author’s name would be a gift that does good.