Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This Old House and Goals

Recently, Donna left a question in the comments.

I am desperate to finish a goal, I almost never set a goal because I fail every time....any ideas?
When we were renovating our former house, it was a bit overwhelming to think of ALL of the things that needed to be done. I learned that if I broke it down into little steps, I wasn't so nervous about it.

For instance, "Renovate the bathroom" is a lot more likely to give me heart palpitations than "unscrew the old toilet paper holder and throw that piece of chipped chrome junk away." I also found that when I had a Dumpster delivered, it was easy to find old paneling and carpet to fill it with;) Maybe the same part of me that loves my prybar loves to cut ten thousand words. 

For those of you who would like info about how to set goals, I'd recommend your goals to be S.M.A.R.T.

T-Track Results

I could describe all of this here, but you can read about it at Goal Setting Guide. I don't have much to add to that (I found this website when I was checking my acronym.) Instead I'll share the little steps that turned me from a dabbler in writing into a writer and some links to resources that helped me.

I started writing a little most days. Sometimes I wrote a hundred words, sometimes four thousand. But working consistently got me a rough draft 110,000 words in length in four months.
At that point I realized I didn't know how to turn my ugly manuscript into a polished novel, so I found a critique group. I tried the Online Writer's Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, mainly because it had a free month trial period, and at the end of that time, I was very happy with the critiques I was getting, so I paid something like $40 to become a member. I've heard good things about Backspace, and Nathan Bransford, an ex-agent and blogging demigod, has a forums area on his website with critiques and helpful info.

A critique group is a great thing because then you can set regular goals for submitting (a chapter a week, or whatever), plus reading and critiquing other's submissions develops your inner editor. The best thing I did was to read the crits other writers wrote, especially for submissions that I thought were in good shape. It helped me to take my own writing up a notch.

I started a blog, and this led to friendships with other writers. It seems simple, but leaving comments on blogs eventually led to making online friends. This site doesn't get a million hits a day, but it fills my need to have contact with other writers, plus blogging has led me to some excellent beta readers. Beta readers are daring folks who read your manuscript and critique the whole entire thing, bless their souls! ;)

I also tried the local writer's group, but it wasn't very active, so I'm grateful that the online writing community is so welcoming. Maybe your area has a rocking writer's group, so do an internet search for writing groups or writing conferences.

The next thing I did was to go to a conference or two, and at the Atlanta Writer's Club I was able to pitch to an agent, which led to a partial submission and two referrals for my manuscript. I studied blogs on querying and sent out a few query letters. That led to some feedback from agents, which I have finally finished addressing.

A good way to find agents is the Querytracker website. The basic agent search services are free and they have a great tracking tool so you can stay organized and know who you've contacted, how quickly they typically respond, etc. I also follow agents on Twitter, and I highly recommend this. Blogs and agency websites have great information, but it is often heavily edited. Twitter is more relaxed, so you can get an idea of an agent's personality and personal life. Like if they're always talking about what jerks people are, you might want to know that they're negative going in, right? Also, check out Predators and Editors to find out if your agent or publisher is legit. There are a lot of scammers out there, so be careful.

It still seems like a huge goal to get an agent- I'll have to send out dozens, if not fifty to a hundred query letters, and this book may or may not get picked up. If it does, there may (lol!) be revisions before I even get an agent. Then more revisions, then my agent will submit to publishers and then contracts, publicity and more.

It's a lot. Focus on what you will do today to reach your goals, what you will do over the next month, the month after, the month after.

And don't be discouraged if it takes longer than you planned. After my first draft, I thought I would need a few months to get it in shape and then I'd be ready to query. Boy, was I wrong. I spent twenty seven months actively writing and editing my first novel. If I'd given up at seven months, I would have missed the lessons in craft I needed to learn. I'm still learning.
Finally, Donna, I saw all of the Christmas decorations in your pictures on your blog. Anybody that has enough patience to put that much garland up can write a book. Some dreams take longer, but they can still be reached. In the case of my old house, we reached our goals right before we sold it! May the same thing happento our stories, right?

May I suggest a book called "Writing Down the Bones," by Natalie Goldberg? It's a collection of essays about how writing can help you be a whole person. It's very inspiring and makes you want to grab a pen and get to work. I read it in college (and I've heard of many people using it in highschool writing classes) for a creative writing class, which was about ten years ago now. The goodreads blurb on it says it is borderline erotic, but I don't remember that. I remember the "live in the now", "Write because you are alive and the world is beautiful" kind of feel to it. She brings Buddhist philosophy into it a lot, and I thought it very helpful. So, I cautiously suggest that book.

Any other suggestions? How did you change from dabbling to being a writer? Or were you always a writer?


  1. Oh, I like the SMART acronym. I've heard SPAM before. Specific, Positive, Achievable, Measurable.

  2. Hi Karen- SPAM, SMART- whatever;) It sounds like the same basic idea. I like the positive part, though. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Hi Kelly- great advice about handling big projects in small steps, including writing.

  4. Great post!

    I usually set a big goals for the year, and then I break them into smaller bites for the month, week, and day. And I make sure my goals are about my actions, not dependent on what someone else does.