Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.
I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.
Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.
I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:
- Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
- Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
- Talk about the problem with others
- Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem
I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:
- Finish dialogue edits by x date
- Send to agent by x date
- Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
- Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)
She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.
My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.
If you’re wondering how last week’s goals went: very well! I wrote a 5500 word short story, some book reviews, and worked on this blog. I exceeded my goal of fifteen minutes per day, some days writing up to an hour.
It got me thinking about types of goals. The goals I set for myself last week were output goals. In other words, I just promised myself I would produce words, not that they would be any good.
Goals around output can be short-term, measurable, and quantifiable. Examples of Output Goals:
- Write 1,000 words per day for a week/month
- Write one short story/article/blog post/chapter per week
- Write every day for fifteen minutes
- Enter one writing contest each month
- Query one agent per month
Output goals are within your control and you can easily tell whether you’ve met them or not. But the ones listed above don’t measure quality. I actually do want my work to be measurably good. I can judge my own work, to an extent, but having outside validation feels important too. So I also made some outcome goals.
Goals around outcome are not necessarily measurable in the short-term and depend on outside factors coming together as well as your own hard work. Examples of Outcome Goals:
- Win a writing contest
- Sign with an agent
- Get a book deal
- Sell x number of books by the end of the year
My output goals are to submit to four anthologies/writing contests between now and May 31. My outcome goals are to have at least half my submissions accepted/win something. Spoiler alert: I’ve already submitted one story to an anthology and had it accepted! More details to come.
I am a multi-tasker. Since I work from home, you’re likely to find me working on the computer while a load of laundry spins in the machine and dinner simmers away on the stove. I admit to writing emails while participating in Skype meetings (the non-video ones). I draw the line at texting and driving.
My quest to be Jessica Fletcher demands multi-tasking. I’m not a full-time writer. So I have to seize my moments to be creative, even if I’m technically involved in something else. If National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has taught me anything (it’s taught me a lot: see here and here), it’s that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make and meet a writing goal. As long as it’s a reasonable goal.
Here’s an example: Recently, I decided to enter a writing contest. I needed to produce a short story of 2000-3000 words. I calculated if I took a week to write the story, I’d have to write 480 words a day. That felt doable. (For reference, this post is 272 words.) I took my lunch break and started writing. I ended up with 2400 words, a complete story. It took about an hour and was during the time I was technically at work and/or eating lunch. (Shh, this is secret, remember?)
The lessons here?
- Set a low, achievable bar.
- Grab writing moments when you can.
- It’s better to write something than nothing.
For the next week, my goal is to write fifteen minutes per weekday on either a novel or short story in progress, or a blog post. Tune in next week to find out how I did!
Blog reboot alert! This blog is now called Secretly Aspiring to be Jessica Fletcher.
Jessica Fletcher is a fictional mystery author who solves mysteries in between writing them. She was played by Angela Lansbury on the classic eighties TV show, Murder She Wrote.
Why am I aspiring (not so secretly) to be Jessica Fletcher?
Like Jessica Fletcher, I’m a mystery writer and I also do other things. Unlike Jessica, I’m a mom of three, wife of one, and hold a full-time non-mystery-writing job. And there’s the dilemma. I love to write, but taking care of my family, earning a steady paycheck, and sleeping are priorities too. My question is: how do you fit writing into your life when you’re doing other things?