A Novelist’s Guide to Goals

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Don’t get tangled up like these crazy succulent vine things. You might have to hack your way out with a machete.

Setting personal goals is all about knowing what you can do and then pushing your limits. You don’t want to push yourself so far that you flop over in defeat, but just enough that you learn more about yourself and about your craft.

Years ago I would set arbitrary deadlines: “I will write 50k by June!” I always failed, but I always learned. I’d write 10 or 20k and be satisfied that I had pushed myself as far as I could. Now I know what prep must happen before I set the goal. 50k doesn’t just appear out of thin air. I’m a planner, so without an outline or clear story goals, I’ll never make it.

Today I’m setting a deadline for draft three of BLOODSTONE, which includes 3 weeks of prep and 18 weeks of editing 2 chapters per week. Some weeks will be easy and some will be grueling, especially considering how busy my summer is going to be.

I’d like to encourage you to set goals for yourself. Measure how much you can accomplish and stretch yourself just a little further. You might need to start with arbitrary goals like I did, but you can also analyze your process a little and see where you’re weak: outlining, character growth, plot formation, simple butt-in-chair time. Writer’s block doesn’t appear out of thin air. It has a source, and your job is to locate the root and rip it out.

3 Types of Motivation and 1 Type of Irony

20150616_071256Life with a Little is the busiest I have ever experienced. College got pretty busy, but my homework didn’t wake me up at night unless I had a high-pressure exam the next day. So now that I’m sleeping much less than I would like (thank you, Little’s lower central incisors) I have set some pretty high goals for myself: finish the second draft of my novel. Soon. If I’m going to succeed, I need as much motivation as I can get. Thankfully, I have three types:

Now or Never

One good thing about being so busy is that my mindset is always “work now, or else you’ll never get to it.” There is no room for procrastination. It’s ironic, but I just might get more written now that I don’t have free time.

My goal is to finish editing my first act by New Years (or by Christmas if at all possible) and the next two acts by March. If I don’t work on it every day, I will fall behind. So I can at least take some time during Little’s naps or while he plays happily in the morning. There is time, I just need to find it and steal it away from other tasks like dishes and laundry.

Competition

These goals are also part of a competition. Even though ‘now or never’ gets me going pretty well, my internal motivation isn’t strong enough to withstand sleep deprivation. To battle this, I am competing with a writing group friend. We both set the same two due dates and we’ll trade our works by the end.

Expectant Readers

As if this wasn’t enough, another friend demanded that I let her read the novel at the end. If I didn’t trust her to handle my novel well I wouldn’t even consider sending it to her, but she is a conscientious person who I’m sure will be able to give a thoughtful critique. This also gives me a good excuse to print off the whole manuscript, which is always satisfying. Having few readers will help me meet my deadlines, and their notes will give me clearer direction for draft three.

Though each form of motivation helps keep me going, I still have some serious time restrictions no matter how determined I am to write. So wish me luck! I’m going to need it.

Just reinventing my life as I know it. Don’t mind me.

So it’s time to write a blog post and I’m stumped. I’m in the middle of buying a house with my husband, and even though that doesn’t take that much of my time away from my personal writing, it sure takes up a lot of mental and emotional energy.

We discuss over and over how to finish certain paperwork, how we’re going to move, and what construction projects we’ll start first. I browse magazines for potential paint colors. He searches craigslist for a refrigerator. Everyone around me gets the low down on what’s up, whether or not they actually ask for it.

In the meantime, I still get up at 5:30 every morning and try to start my days as though everything is normal. As a freelance writer who has few external time restraints, discipline has become quite difficult. People ask me for advice on how freelancers should budget time and create schedules, and I can give them a lot of helpful tips and access which will work best for them depending on their needs, but for myself? Staying focused is hard.

Today I’m reminding myself of the advice that I give to others: when your usual habits don’t fit your phase of life anymore, get ready to mix things up. Don’t expect old schedules to work in new environments. You’ve got to reinvent yourself. Things would be a lot easier if we lived in a cookie-cutter world, where the circle always has a circle space to fit into, but it’s more complex–and much more fantastic–than that. Since I’m preparing myself for a move, I can’t focus as much at home. I’ve got to get out of the house more than before. It’s not bad per say, it’s just an adjustment that I need to make for the next few weeks.

So, chat time. How’s life? Any big changes going on?

Why I Love Editing

Sarah L. Yoon's High School Attempts at Editing

My high school attempts at editing – an incredibly messy training ground.

When I was ten, I discovered the joy of a well crafted sentence. I wrote a three paragraph narrative about a squirrel and its acorn–after raising my hand in class asking how to spell the word squirrel–and I can still feel the magic of storytelling.

Though I’ve always thought that event launched my love for writing, only recently have I realized that it also launched my love of editing. Writing is only the beginning of the process. It’s messy, raw and free. After everything is scribbled and typed, editing sweeps the scenes and the sentences into place.  The prose moves out of an awkward, gargling stage into mature, lyrical prose. While many people dread the editing process–it is scary sometimes, I’ll admit–the feeling of everything coming together is worth the work. 

What launched your love of art and all the hard work that comes with it?

The Freelancer’s Polar Bear Club: Diving in Headfirst

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Ripped mercilessly off their shelves, books congregate by color. Homesickness sets in as they wait for their turn with the  camera.

Last week when the hubby came home from work, a mess of books sprawled across the dining table. He asked; I explained:

When I quit my semi-traditional salaried job last month, I decided to dive headfirst into freelancing. I bought a domain. I shot pictures for the website’s headers–discovering that that green books have too many tones to match well, but blue and red are nicely uniform. Superfluities aside, Continue reading

Focus, Discipline, and Silence

Sometimes I have to trick my brain into focusing to get some good writing time. Yesterday I put the earbuds in. And that’s all, really. No music. They weren’t even plugged into the computer. They separated me from wave of distractions just enough to create a small bubble of focus. The magical effects lasted for an hour and then I moved on to the work that I’m actually paid to do 😉

And now, this morning, it’s time to tackle chapter 11 again.

How do you get yourself to plunk down and focus on your writing?

Progress!

Last week I condensed my novel manuscript into one document and found that it is 63k, at 222 pages! I’m editing through a few chapters to get the plot up to speed with a few necessary updates, and then I’ll work on finishing it up. Though I love my novel, editing it is going to be horrible. Those 200+ pages will be nearer to 300 when I’m done, and it is going to take many, many drafts for it to be publishable. Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. You get the idea.

If you’re interested, here’s my take on the editing process: The 4 Draft Breakdown

What is your process like? How do you tackle editing?

Writing Update #2

Over the past month, I finished editing the first 38k of my story, and still my goals stretch before me:

  1. Write 15k for Sep (500 words per day)
  2. Write 15k for Oct (500 wpd)
  3. Write 10k for Nov (350 wpd)

At the end of November, I’ll finish the first draft with about 80k! I can’t wait to type ‘finis’ at the end and know that I’ve finally accomplished my goal, because then I get to edit the whole thing over and over again. I don’t know why the thought of so much work makes me happy, but it really does. 

How’s your writing coming? Any NaNo inspiration getting you pumped for November?

Discipline: So Essential, yet So Elusive

Tonight, I had a revelation.

It’s same revelation I have every once in a while, and it goes like this: I should schedule my writing time so that I move forward at a respectable pace and build discipline. 

Does it ever happen? If I’m honest with myself—rarely. 

I think I’ll try it out this week though. I’ll write one hour per day, from Monday through Friday, and update you at the end. I’m sure I’ll drink twice as much tea as usual. Maybe some iced milk tea. Mmmmm, yum. 

Can you think of any personal challenges that you need face? How do you build discipline?