I long ago gave up making New Year’s resolutions, but ever since discovering Bylines: The Essential Weekly Planner for Writers, I’ve been setting clear, measurable, and achievable goals every day, week, month and year. Bylines is a Writer’s Desk Calendar with 53 stories for inspiration and encouragement, and some nifty pages to help a writer set clear goals – and meet them.
I discovered the calendar through the Creative Writers Opportunities List back in 2006. When my 200-word story about the writing life was accepted, I not only scored a publication, but I was paid – five dollars and a complimentary copy of the calendar in which my work appeared. The five dollars was quickly spent, but the calendar has been invaluable.
The calendar is a spiral bound book with a week-by-week layout. Each week includes a very short essay about the writing life. The 2012 edition includes 53 essays by writers of all ages and stages of development from 25 states plus Ireland and the UK. These pieces run the gamut from funny to poignant. When the challenges of loneliness or rejection or motivation strike, these essays can boost me back to my desk and help me remember that my voice is important.
But Bylines is not just about inspiration. It includes some tools that helped me develop steady work habits as I’ve transitioned to writing full-time with regular gigs and a developing audience. The goals pages are the most critical of these tools. There’s a short preface about how and why to set goals, and then there’s a page for setting a goal for the year. The goal can be anything, from developing a daily writing practice by next December to drafting an entire book.
The first step is to articulate the goal; the next step is to break it down to manageable tasks. Pages for setting month-by-month goals follow with two checklists for each month: one for goals and one for tasks. The goals list is a place to commit to the small steps that will help writers advance to the larger goal, like completing a chapter or writing three poems, or sending out three queries. I’ve found that setting monthly goals has helped me both keep focused and achieve a sense of accomplishment, creating a loop of positive re-enforcement that keeps me writing more and more.
The task list includes items like Set Goals for Month, Pay quarterly estimated taxes, Back up computer files, and – my personal favorite – Clean desktop last work day of month. I confess that I don’t always complete this last item, but at least I’m reminded to. This task list has helped me become more aware of what I need to do to develop my professional, organizational muscles – because as I achieve more success with publication and reach a wider audience, I have a growing need to be able to keep track of the business side of this writing life. Using Bylines has certainly helped me work more consistently, which in turn has helped me achieve new and bigger goals.
Each year, Bylines features a different writer’s desk, a brief biography of that writer, and encouraging quotations. The 2012 calendar features American Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In addition, literary birthdays are noted each day of the year, and there’s a month-by-month list of literary holidays, which I’ve found useful both as prompts for timely essays and for chuckles. (June is National Bathroom Reading Month.) Other extras include pages at the back for tracking submissions, tracking business expenses and miles, space for Conference Notes and contact info. I’ve been using Bylines for several years now, and have discovered that each volume serves as a valuable record of my year’s work.
Bylines is edited by Sylvia Forbes, herself a successful freelance writer out of Missouri. She’s the author of over six hundred magazine articles in the past ten years, and is active in writer’s organizations throughout the mid-west. While family health issues have stymied her intention of publishing Bylines in June, she still makes that her yearly goal. To that end, she’s accepting 200-word stories about the writing life now through March first, for the 2013 edition.
To make it into the book, Sylvia passes on the best advice an editor ever gave her: “Just write the story.” She says it can be quirky, funny, inspiring – anything but an expanded biography of yourself as a writer. In addition to the payment (five dollars, a copy of the book and a discount to purchase more), publication in Bylines offers terrific, year-long exposure to a wide-spread audience of writers. Submission guidelines can be found at http://www.bylinescalendar.com/guidelines.php.
My goal for 2012 is to complete a draft of a new novel, tentatively titled Ellen. What’s yours?
Deborah Lee Luskin often writes about Vermont, where she has lived since 1984. She is a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council and the author of the award winning novel, Into The Wilderness. For more information, visit her website at www.deborahleeluskin.com