By Jennie Jarvis
Each December, we here at 5writers.com like to take the month of December to look back at the past year to reflect on what happened and make our goals for next year.
For me, 2014 has been quite a year. If you read my post from last December, you’ll see I was feeling a bit discouraged. I had an agent for over a year, but still none of my books had sold, regardless of the positive feedback I received. I knew I needed to keep working, regardless of those short term accomplishments, because eventually – at some point – that first sale would be made.
So, I started the year off with modest goals: I decided that, if my agent was having trouble placing the novels I already wrote, then I needed to diversify. I could expand my skills into writing shorts so I could submit to literary magazines. I also wanted to start submitting to contests. There was also that textbook I wanted to write. Plus, to keep moving forward with my novel writing, I wanted to finish at least one fiction manuscript.
Keep in mind none of those goals were out of my control. I didn’t say, “This year, I will be published,” or “This year, I will win a contest.” I set goals I could reach without anyone else’s assistance. The goal was completion, submission and entry, not publication or winning. Keeping my expectations and goals in check kept me positive and motivated, instead of dejected while waiting for the phone call that would never come or the email that would never arrive.
This year, I was able to accomplish the following:
- Completed rewrite on one novel
- Wrote and rewrote a textbook
- Wrote five short stories
- Wrote four magazine articles
- Contributed blogs to this website every month
- On track to complete first draft of a novel by the end of December
On top of creating those works, I can also claim the following “bonus” achievements:
- Published my textbook and got to see it sell internationally and become a University textbook
- Published one short story and have a contract for the publication of a second one in 2015
- Published all four magazine articles
- Won three awards for writing
- Received first royalty payment!
Yes, I know I had a pretty ideal year that few writers are lucky enough to have, but I think there is something my experience that can help all writers. I honestly didn’t realize exactly how much I had accomplished this past year until I wrote it all out. With my schedule being so busy, I’m always so focused on what is immediately in front of me. I often loose track of the bigger picture. It was no wonder I was getting discouraged last year – I never took the time to list out my achievements!
If you are feeling like your year hasn’t been very prolific, then maybe you can take a leaf from my book and write out everything you accomplished. Even if you haven’t received any publication contracts or won any awards, if you have written anything this year, then you have made some amazing accomplishments as a writer.
So often, early career writers think the awards and accolades – the sales and the publications – are all that matters. But it can’t be about the glitter. It has to be about the work. We have to change our mindset and work on being prolific and craft driven if we want to receive those pats on the back.
Remember, I was really discouraged from a lack of accolades in 2013. All I had was the hope that, if I climbed one more mountain, things would work out for me in the end. I had to keep my head down and just write, write, write. I needed to focus on diversifying and improving my craft. As soon as I started to do that, the Universe rewarded me – quite literally.
So, here’s my challenge for all of you this month:
- Write down everything you accomplished in 2014 – even if all you can say is you wrote one chapter of a book, or a treatment for a screenplay, or just played around with an idea in your head. Go back through your social media and your hard drive to make sure you don’t forget anything. Write down every poem, every blog post, every workshop proposals, every anything.
- Write down your goals for 2015. Remember, you want to keep your goals realistic and YOU based. You can say you want to complete a short story, but don’t say you want to have it published. You can’t control if it will be published or not. You can only control if you complete it.
- Include realistic deadlines for each goal. What do you want to have accomplished each month? Don’t be overly ambitious. Be honest with yourself. If you are a procrastinator, don’t say you’ll have a novel written by March. I’m a fast writer (I’ve been called a “machine”), and I know I can’t do that!
- Challenge yourself to diversify. Add at least one goal for yourself that challenges you to push your boundaries. If you mostly write screenplays, write a short story. If you only write novels, try a poem. If you normally write poetry or another short format, you may not want to set yourself a challenge that’s too large – don’t expect to complete an entire novel in one year if you’ve never done it before. Be realistic. Maybe instead of setting a goal for an entire novel, you will make an outline for a novel. Then, if you are able to complete the entire manuscript, you can consider it icing on the goal-setting cake.
- Focus on Getting Better At Your Craft. Add at least one experience to your goal list that will help you become a better writer. While an ideal goal to help you improve would be to attend a writer’s conference where you can really spend time attending workshops on how to be a better writer, you don’t have to break the bank. If money is an issue, then look into less expensive options, like attending a free writing workshop at your local library or through a local writing organization (i.e. Florida Writers Association has free meetings each month all over the state). If thee aren’t options for you, perhaps you can purchase and read a book on writing craft. Keep in mind “How to Sell Your Book” isn’t craft. Craft is about being a BETTER writer.
- Get Feedback. Make sure you share your work with people who can help you improve this year. That being said, don’t show your work to people you know will give you nothing but negative feedback. Yes, it might help your work, but if they aren’t supporting you with positive feedback as well, then you will just get discouraged and want to quit. Similarly, don’t share your work when it’s new or fresh. Even the most well intended critique partner can kill an idea if it’s too raw. The key to getting great feedback is to make sure you find people you can trust, and go to them when your work is ready to take the next step.
- Submit, Submit, Submit. In 2015, make sure you actually do something with your writing. If you write shorts, submit them to literary magazines. If you write novels or screenplays, submit them to a contest. Are you a playwright? Then how about you contact a local theater or university theater program to set up a staged reading? Do something new and different with your work. New means scary, but it also means you might get fresh feedback that helps you get better.
- Be good to yourself. One of the most important things we can do as writers is give ourselves permission to be imperfect. If you don’t quite meet your deadline, don’t beat yourself up. If you are stressed out, take an afternoon and go on an Artist’s Date. The industry is hard, so you need to make sure you are kind to yourself. You need to be the biggest cheerleader of your own work.
So, how many of you are up for the challenge?