I was so jazzed this spring from attending the Left Coast Crime conference in Reno and having my first short story publication. I felt inspired to complete a draft of my novel and to start finding opportunities for feedback. I felt so inspired I made a personal goal to complete this by the end of September.
Spoiler alert: didn’t happen. Work got busier. The full circuit of three camp drop-offs and pickups ended up taking two hours a day. This is not a complaint, they had a great summer and did some really fun camps. And they got some free time at home, which is also important. But this blog is about me, not the kids, and my summer was almost all work and no writing.
Today is September 9, it’s a Sunday, and I’m in a cafe, alone, writing for the first time in months. My husband is taking all three kids to the grocery store. I feel bad about this. I know I don’t have to. I know he doesn’t feel bad. He can handle it. I also know it’s not exactly easy to take three kids to the grocery store, and that I could be helping but I’m not because I’m here writing.
I guess I better get to it. This novel’s not going to write itself in the next two hours and if I’m going to feel bad about taking the time, I’d better have something to show for it 🙂
Recently I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on using social media by Karma Bennett of WordPress Blogs for Writers. The workshop was not titled Social Media for the Non-Social, but it might as well have been. The target audience was writers. Need I say more?
The first point she made was that social media is all about connecting with strangers. A collective shudder may or may not have gone through the audience. Perhaps it was just me.
There are times when my relationship with my husband is sustained through texting, so the idea of putting time into connecting with strangers seemed a bit daunting. But, as the presentation went on, it became clear that interacting with strangers on social media doesn’t have to be time-consuming or scary.
First of all, you are trying to connect with your readers, who probably like you already since they read your book.
Secondly, your online persona shouldn’t be too different from your off-line persona. It’s best to share about topics you’re genuinely interested in. You’ll find your niche of others who are interested in the same things and suddenly all these people are not the scary kind of stranger anymore. They’re just other people who like goats in tutus as much as you do.
Karma encouraged each of us to think about what topics we always like to talk about and to engage online about those topics. The things I like most to share on social media are about odd or interesting writing topics, humor, and social justice. I also like to follow or mention authors I enjoy reading, and it’s really exciting when they respond to a tweet.
If you are interested in interacting with me on social media, please look for me on Twitter (@MariahJKlein) or on Goodreads. I’ll do my best to socialize virtually with you when I should be sleeping.
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!