Goals vs. Resolutions: What I intend to accomplish in 2017

goal-setting

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions. The first week of January, the gyms are full, the parks are crowded with joggers, and the self-help section of the book store is buzzing with activity.  Resolutions tend to last about a month before they fade into the past and are forgotten.

On the other hand, I love goals, and I always spend the last few days of every year thinking about my goals for the next year.

Is there really a difference between goals and resolutions? Of course, every person is different, but for me a resolution is a big, vague idea. “I’m going to get healthier.” “I’m going to get published.” A goal, on the other hand, is smaller and has a clear path to achieving it.

I like the idea of SMART goals. Sure, it sounds corporate. In fact, I learned about SMART goals at my corporate day job. But SMART goals really work.

SMART is an acronym:

  • S – Specific A specific goal is one that is clearly defined so you know exactly where you want to end up. A vague goal makes if difficult to know what success is. This is the time to ask those Who, What, When, Where, How questions.
  • M – Measurable How will you know if you’ve achieved a goal if you don’t have a way to measure your success?
  • A – Attainable This is probably one of the most critical aspects of setting goals, and the question I like to ask myself is this: “Do I control the success or failure of the goal or is that control in the hands of someone else?” It does no good to say, “In 2017, I will publish my novel.” Assuming you’re not self-publishing, the success or failure of this kind of goal is out of your hands. You have no way to attain this on your own, no control over your own success or failure. A better way to approach this would be, “In 2017, I will submit my novel manuscript to [a certain number of] agents.” This way, you retain control over your own success or failure. You’re still driving toward the dream, but you’re doing so in an attainable way.
  • R – Realistic You can’t climb Mt. Kilimanjaro if you don’t have a way to get to  Tanzania. Need I say more?
  • T – Timely – Goals are easier to achieve if you set a clear deadline. This gives you something to work toward.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my goals for 2017. I want to read more, continue the professional author career track, and, of course, keep on writing, writing, writing. But those are vague resolutions. Here’s how I’m breaking this out into goals:

Complete the STL Writer’s Meet-Up Writers of the Future V. 34 Challenge

My fellow published finalist and friend, David VonAllmen, challenged our local writer’s group to write and submit a story for every quarter of this year’s Writers of the Future contest. In order to achieve this, I will write 3 short stories (Q1 ended Dec 31, 2016), revise them, and submit them to the contest during the appropriate submission windows.

Read One New Release Book Each Month starting in April

There are tons of great books coming out this year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on them!  I intend to focus this particular set of books on women, LGBT authors, and people of color. I’m pushing the timing of this out to April because of the reading I need to do to prepare for the Writers of the Future workshop in late March.

Read 50 Books in 2017

This will be a big stretch for me. I’ve got two small children to chase, a day job, writing, and tons of other stuff to do, but good writers are, above all, good readers, so this is important. I’ll be tracking some of this on Good Reads, but I am counting the books I beta read for writing colleagues.

Stay Up-to-Date with Season 12 of the Writing Excuses Podcast

If you’re a writer and you’re not listening to Writing Excuses, you’ve got to start! It’s a fantastic podcast hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. I listen to it sporadically, but this year, I want to dig in and listen to the entire season. Season 12 is going to be all about structure, so it will be particularly helpful. It airs every Sunday, so definitely check it out.

 

Of course, I will continue writing every day as I have for the past two years. I’ve also got a few health-related goals and my Top Secret Project that I’m working on, so 2017 is shaping up to be a year of doing big things. I’m playing around with tracking my goals on myWriteClub.com. It’s a site that is still in beta, but it promises some pretty cool features for writing and goal tracking. It might be worth checking out if you’re interested in that sort of thing. It’s pretty basic and simple, but for me, simple works best and is less distracting.

What goals have you created for 2017 and how do you plan to achieve them?

Writers of the Future Published Finalist

Back in April of 2016, I learned that one of my stories had been selected as one of eight finalists in the Writers of the Future contest. A few weeks later, I received word that the story had not been selected as a winner, but they asked to hang on to it. At the end of each year, they select a non-winning finalist to be included in the anthology, the Published Finalist.

A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail. “Hello, Molly. This is Joni with Writers of the Future. Please call me back immediately!”

They had chosen my story as one of the published finalists! My story!

And you read that right. One of the published finalists. There are two of us this year!

In late March, I will fly out to California to take a writing workshop with 13 other incredibly talented writers. I’ll get the opportunity to learn about the craft and the business of writing from David Farland and other industry pros. My story will be illustrated by one of the Illustrators of the Future winners. And best of all, it will be published in the annual Writers of the Future Anthology.

As the time nears, I will share more information on how you can pick up a copy of the anthology so you can read my story and the others. This is my very first sale, and I could not be more thrilled.

October/November Wrap-Up

When last I posted, my 30 stories in 30 days project was proceeding well. October ended, and so did the project. All-in-all, it was a successful exercise. I did not produce the full 30 stories, but I did manage 24, which I think is pretty good.

Will I revise and try to sell every single story? No. But I’ve gotten a few good ones out of the bunch. A few of the stories will remain flash pieces, and there are a couple of them that I’m expanding into full short stories.

Forcing myself to sit down and generate ideas–because that’s what the project turned out to be–was a useful exercise. It got me out of my rut, and broke through some of the blocks I’d been dealing with.

Of course, the other big news from the past two months is NaNoWriMo. I was on the fence about participating in NaNo this year. I did NaNo in 2014 and 2015, and both times I won, but both times, the process burned me out on the story so badly that I just couldn’t manage to go back to the story and finish it. For NaNo 2016, I revisited the 2015 story, but 20k words in, I started feeling that feeling of “I hate everything about this story” again.

This isn’t like my normal mid-story burn-out. I’ve written novel-length pieces before outside of NaNo, and yes, mid-story is hard, but I’ve always been able to recognize that as just being in the “Great Swampy Middle.”

The difference between slogging through the swampy middle of a story and just being burned out and hating it is hard for me to explain. Middles are hard. They’re hard to get through, they’re hard to navigate. But I don’t hate them.

Something about the pacing of NaNo, though, and the forced wordcount, and the need to blaze on at breakneck pace regardless of… well… anything, just kills a story for me. This tells me that NaNoWriMo, while a great program and something I wholeheartedly support, just may not be the best way for me to produce.

I think I’m okay with that. Part of this whole process these last few years has been learning how I write best, so each success or failure leads me closer to that understanding.

30 Stories in 30 Days: At the Halfway Mark

I’ve just wrapped up my 15th story, which means I’m halfway through my 30 stories in 30 days challenge. Some stories, I think, have real promise. Or at least they will once I clean them up. Others aren’t so great, but they have the seeds of something else. Still others are just plain awful.

Technically, this is day 16, but I’m willing to forgive myself for missing a day. I’ve got a sick kiddo and we’ve had a few sleepless nights. I think giving myself permission to be imperfect is important. Missing one day doesn’t mean I have to throw the whole project out. I can just pick back up and carry on.

Inspiration has been difficult, but I’ve been using story cubes, a friend’s Storymatic cards, and a variety of prompts. Writing when I’m not inspired has been terribly difficult, but also wonderfully instructive. Sitting around, waiting for the muse to strike doesn’t get the job done, and for me, it is important to approach writing like it is my job. Some days will be easier than others, and that’s just reality.

I’m on the downhill side of things now. I’ve tried a variety of different styles, genres, and techniques. I’ve even uncovered ideas for longer pieces of short fiction.

Just 15 stories to go, and I will have met my goal!

30 Stories in 30 Days

I’ve been in a writing slump lately, and I’ve been struggling to kick my brain into gear. Writing is easy when you’re inspired, but learning to write when you’re not inspired can be one of the most important lessons to learn as an Early Career Writer.

With that in mind, I’ve decided to follow some advice given to me by several different authors: Spend some time writing a lot of flash fiction in a row. From what I’ve been told, flash can really help you hone your beginnings and endings, and at the very least, it will give me 30 days of solid writing without goofing around.

So that’s what I’m going to do, and I’m writing down my goal here on my blog for accountability purposes.

Over the next 30 days, I will write the drafts for 30 stories. One story per day. Every day. Weekends included. I’ll be tracking my progress on Twitter. Today is day 3, and I’m almost done with my 3rd story. Which, of course, is why I’m procrastinating by writing this blog post.

So, here we go. 30 stories in 30 days! Anyone crazy enough to join me?

Rejections

I have a funny relationship with rejection letters.

I’ve gathered quite a few rejections over the last 12 months. Of course, in talking to some other writers on a writer’s message board I visit, I know that my collection of letters is paltry. More experienced authors talk about getting hundreds in a single year. Still, I’m rapidly filling up the small bulletin board in my office where I pin each of my rejection letters. Yes, I took Stephen King’s advice in On Writing seriously.

Each rejection is, to me, a piece of encouragement. Every “Dear Author, Thank you for your submission, but we are going to have to pass this time” spurs me to keep trying harder.

Of course, I don’t glorify the rejection letter. I don’t send out pieces that I know are bad just to receive a response as a form of attention seeking. With every piece, I try my very best to write my very best work and with each piece I hope with all my heart that this will be the one.

That said, I don’t let rejections crush my soul. A rejection letter doesn’t mean the publication is rejecting me as a writer or me as a person. A rejection letter doesn’t mean I suck. It doesn’t mean my ideas are garbage. A rejection letter means that either the piece just wasn’t right for the market (different editors have different tastes just like all people do) or it means that the piece just isn’t quite ready to be published yet. Mostly, to me, a rejection is a reminder that I still have a lot of growing to do as a writer.

Writers of the Future Finalist

Sometimes, in a sea of rejections, it’s hard to keep my head up. I’ve spent the last year focusing on short stories because I find that the abbreviated length helps to spend my learning process. Still, I’ve yet to make that first professional sale.

Each quarter for the last year, I’ve entered one of my stories in the Writers of the Future contest. The first quarter I entered, my story received an honorable mention. Every quarter after that it’s been a swift rejection, which is okay. You know how I feel about rejections.

But then, for Q1 of this year, I didn’t hear back. Rejections rolled in. Nothing. Honorable Mention and Silver Honorable Mention notices went out. Still nothing. Weeks went past. Most of me figured my entry had gotten lost, but part of me wondered if maybe, just maybe, I was a finalist.

Then, one night after I had gone to bed, the phone rang, and I heard a woman’s voice on the other end of the line say, “Hello, Molly. This is Joni Labaqui from the Writers of the Future contest.” I was one of the eight finalists for Q1!

This is a huge success, and just the encouragement I needed. In the end, I was not selected as a winner, but there may still be a chance for it. Joni asked if I would let them hold my piece until the end of the year for possible inclusion in the anthology as a published finalist, so I may yet get a yes this year. And check out my name in their official announcement! Right up near the top! Pretty exciting.

1st Quarter Writers of the Future Winners

The best part about this is the boost of encouragement. “Keep on writing,” is what this says to me. So, I will. I’ll keep on writing, and hopefully, at some point down the road, my nos will turn into yeses.