3AM is too early, but it’s where I needed to start

Traveling is always an adventure. Planning ways to get where you need to be, or where you want to be, can translate to goal setting for writing projects, too.

In planning a recent trip, for instance, I knew what time I wanted to arrive at my destination in order to make the most of a few days. Translate that into a writing project and it would be knowing the requirements of the final written product.

Next, for the trip, was to figure out the major points that would allow me to get to my destination. I started with “before noon,” “most direct,” “least amount of driving.” For a writing project, that equates to a specific deadline, i.e. “by Friday” or “by the end of the month,” and so on.

Then I had to do some research, since my destination required airfare. I searched various airlines for flights and prices. In a writing project, I would be using the Internet or setting up interviews as the piece started to come together.

Next was selecting the best combination of arrival/departure flights to get me where I wanted to be and back again (full circle, of course!). For the writing project, I’d start seeing the article/story in my mind and know what details to focus on to get me to the specific word/page count.

And then it was all about filling in the details — planning specifics for the week, packing, stopping mail, setting up pet sitting, and so on. The writing should come easily at this point, as it’ll be about filling in the blanks or coloring within the lines (if I may).

So, the result of the planning for my trip meant a 3AM wake up, but it allowed me a full first day (and last day), and was totally worth it. If I booked a flight based on a ‘usual’ day, I wouldn’t have arrived at my destination until 5PM or later — an entire day lost to avoid being tired. But taking the time to plan is always, in my opinion, worth it.

Starting with the end in mind is a great way to attack a writing project, too. The starting point may be a surprise, but by working with the end result in mind, you know you’ll be starting in the right place.

Do you usually start a project with the end in mind?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who continues to find new opportunities through LinkedIn. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Biznik.

Wildly Improbable Goal 2012 Update

Back in January, I posted my writing WIGs (Wildly Improbable Goals) here on Write To Live—Live To Write. I recently looked back at my goals for the year to see what I’d accomplished and what I hadn’t gotten done.

Here’s my report on my WIG to become a published author and how I did accomplishing the first steps I identified back in January:

  • Record writing accomplishments 2011 (It’s always good to start with a celebration!)
    • Did it! It was fun to do but I forgot to look back at it over the year for inspiration.
  • Create or join a critique group that meets weekly.
    • Did it! Started a critique group with one other member and we were meeting weekly through the winter and into the spring but summer came and our meetings got postponed. The good news is that we are restarting next week and have added a third member who fits in with our editing style and our crazy time schedule.
  • Find 3 contests I can enter and commit to them (deadlines in calendar).
    • Did it! I entered three contests and submitted to two of them. The third one I started a piece and let life get in the way of completion before the deadline. Lesson learned: Don’t waste money on a contest unless you know you are going to be able to meet the deadline.
  • Research 3 magazines I can pitch to (one a week for three weeks).
    • Did it. I found three great magazines I was excited about, but then I dropped the ball. I never ended up contacting any of them. That’s going back on the list for 2013.

Other than these first steps, I have met some other writing goals this year:

  • I won Nano 2012!
  • I met with an agent and pitched a story idea.
  • Started posting to my blog (Healing Choices) weekly.
  • Blogged every other week for NHWN.
  • Guest blogged for a number of different blogs.
  • Went to a writing conference.
  • Hosted a writing retreat.
  • Hosted a Nano Write-In.
  • Joined The Writer’s Chatroom as a moderator and got to interview some amazing authors!

Okay, so—I’m not a published author yet, but—I enjoyed meeting all of these goals and I’m excited at the progress I’ve made.

Becoming a published author is definitely a Wildly Improbable Goal, so I’m sticking with it. No one said I only had a year to make it happen. I’m putting in my “10,000 hours” and enjoying every step along the way.

Now I’m thinking about the new goals I’ll set for 2013.

You?

Time management – scheduling e-mails in Gmail

Did you know e-mails can be scheduled ahead of time like blog posts? Do you have a need to schedule e-mails? Do you ever create e-mail drafts and then send the e-mails when you need to? I’ve tried the drafts technique, but the busier I get, the easier it is to lose track of when an e-mail needs to go out.

Scheduling and forgetting is a great option.

There are some e-mail programs that allow scheduling, such as Microsoft Outlook, but if you have Gmail, scheduling isn’t an option…without a plug-in. And I recently found one with everyone’s favorite price tag –> $0.

It’s called Boomerang for Gmail. It’s compatible with Firefox 3.6+Chrome 5.0+ and Safari 5.1+ and it works with Gmail and Google Apps e-mail.

In addition to scheduling, you can also set up automatic reminders on any e-mails. For instance, I schedule a lot of author interviews for my Reviews and Interviews blog and I ask that interviews be to me at least 7 days before the scheduled date. With the scheduling option, I can have the confirmation e-mail returned to me if the person doesn’t reply to the e-mail by the date I specify.

This definitely saves me time. I don’t have to:

  • check my calendarBoomerang for Gmail Reminder Hear Back
  • determine which person I haven’t heard from
  • search for the last e-mail I sent to them
  • and then forward that e-mail asking the person to reply.

With scheduler, if the recipient doesn’t reply by the date I specify (for myself, which is called ‘boomerang this message‘), I’ll have my last note to them pop up as a new message that I can then easily forward again. Definite time saver! This is great to use for any e-mail that you need a reply to by a specific date.

Do you and your friends say, “We should schedule lunch some time?” Now you can say, “Pick a date. If I don’t hear from you by next Thursday, I’ll get back in touch.” User ‘boomerang this message’ and get that lunch scheduled!

A bonus I found with this plug-in is that if you have multiple Gmail accounts, you only have to install the plug-in to one of them.  I did one simple and quick install, and all my accounts now have the scheduler.

In related news, I saw an article yesterday about Google Chrome passing Internet Explorer as the most popular Web browser. I’ve been using Chrome for less than a year and am just starting to get used to it. What browser do you favor?

Do you see any benefit to scheduling e-mails?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is an independent editor and writer who is still striving to find the perfect combination of technology that makes her life most efficient. She’s also a New England region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom

A tool for organizing your brain

Welcome to 2012!

I found a new tool last week that I find quite useful for organizing thoughts and ToDo items.

It’s called WorkFlowy and it’s used to “organize your brain.”

As I finalize any yearly goals, I find I have sheets of paper that are so filled with goals broken into tasks and subtasks  that the sheets are more chaos than useful, especially since the ideas don’t hit the page in the order in which they need to be addressed.

What I initially think is subtask 3 becomes task2 and may eventually be subsubtask 14. A lot of crossing out, drawing of arrows showing where to move an item, I can even use colored ink to represent changes. My sheets become an total mess.

I always intend to rewrite the lists to make them legible, but of course I don’t. Goals and tasks get lost, and so do the sheets of paper they are written on.

WorkFlowy eliminates the mess. You start with the top goals and then can indent several times, outdent if you need to, and then even add and remove items as your brain starts making the connections.

I love the ease with being able to organize my goals – if I realize a small item should really be a quarterly goal instead of a daily task, I can easily adjust the listing. No scribbling, no small writing, just a clear list.

workflowy example

And WorkFlowy emails my changes to me each day. I can download my list at any time. There isn’t any limit to the number of bullet points I can have. And when I just want to focus on one goal, I can – I don’t have to stare at the full list all the time or scroll down and down and down to find the point I want to work on. I can drill down as low as I want and easily get back to any level in the list that I want.

Working in WorkFlowy has made me realize that I have way more things I want to do than I have actual time to do, and that’s a great realization. It’s helping me focus more and narrow in on what is important.

I don’t have to delete any of my goals, but I can move them to the bottom of the list. I won’t lose the piece of paper, I won’t have to give up on the goal, I can simply focus on it at a different time.

I’m not a WorkFlowy affiliate, but I am a fan already. They have a blog that gives a lot of insight into the tool. It’s an online tool, nothing to download. Create a username and password and start working. You can even use WorkFlowy from your phone or tablet.

The product has useful Help and fabulous short tutorials that get you being productive in minutes.

You can tag items with when you want to address them, ie. #Monday, #Sep, #soon.

There are numerous tags for the tasks you have including #links, @contacts, #checklists, #issues, #projects, and so on.

Knowing I can print out my list at any time feeds my desire to have paper copies to carry with me.

Your list can be shared with others or kept private. You can add notes; mark items as complete; move items up, down, in, or out.

You can use it for annual goals, shopping lists, working out story ideas, the options are numerous.

If you give WorkFlowy a try, or if you’re already using it, let me know what you think of it. Do you find it useful for anything?

Lisa Jackson is an independent editor, writer, New England region journalist, and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to chat with best-selling authors, non-fiction writers, publishers, and other writing professionals on a weekly basis.

A Tool for Setting & Meeting Goals

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

A time to write

A few weekends ago I went with two of my writer friends to a cabin in the Maine woods (near a lake no less) to spend the weekend writing. All of us are writers and all of us are also torn with other time commitments. You know, those little things that keep coming up all the time, keeping you away from what it is you need to write. There are kids, and jobs, and even a move to a new home that have pulled us away from our writing time. 

So we decided to get away by ourselves and do nothing else but write.

Before we left we decided on a schedule. This may come as some surprise to you but I tend to be a bit chatty. The good thing is that I can also respect boundaries so when we made the schedule, I knew I was going to be able to follow it.

We woke and met for breakfast. Then wrote from 9:00 until 12:00. Then we met for lunch and had a swim in the lake. Writing resumed from 1:30 until around 5 at which time we met and started in on making dinner. (yes, food was an important part of this writer’s retreat.) In the evening we chatted or wrote or read. It was a writer’s retreat but we also wanted to have fun.

We were only at the cabin from Friday evening until Sunday afternoon but it was amazing just how much we all were able to get done when we had a chance to focus with absolutely no interruptions. (I was true to my word and didn’t engage anyone in conversation during the writing hours.)

My goal had been to work on my book. Only on my book, there has been so many times over this summer that I’ve sat down to write only to find that someone wanted to know what dinner would be (now where was I?), or someone had gotten stung by a bee (let’s see, was I at this part of the story), or a chicken was loose (I give up).

I was able to get a solid 50 pages of my book done during the weekend. Enough of a sample that I can start shopping it around to literary agents.

Look, I love my kids and I know that interruptions are a part of life, I get it. But I also love being able to write with full focus to get what I need to get done, done.

And if it means I go off with my friends just to write every now and then, so be it.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

And while I wrote this, I was only interrupted by my kids twice. 

Cleaning House

I spent a perfectly good workday cleaning. I started with my writing studio, a single, tiny, room. Nevertheless, I moved all the furniture away from the walls, brought in a stepladder and a vacuum and chased cobwebs out of corners. I washed the windows – inside and out. I polished the woodstove with stove black, and I cleared my desk.

What inspired such uncharacteristic behavior? Last week, I finished a book.  It’s a novel, tentatively titled Elegy for a Girl.

I’ve finished it before, several times under different titles and at least once or twice with this one. And I may have to rewrite it once – or twice – again. But for the time being, I’m done, and I’m moving on to something else: a novel currently titled Ellen. This story has also had several titles, but I’ve never finished it – even momentarily. And that’s about to change.

Before I can step into this new, alternate, universe, however, I have to clear away the old one, and that has meant a thorough housecleaning, not something I’m particularly diligent about in the ordinary course of daily life, but something that provides me with enormous solace as I transition from one novel to another.

Clearing my desk and cleaning my studio is the physical equivalent of opening a new ream of paper. By taking my workspace down to the bones, I’m opening it up to new characters, locales, complications (aka plot). And because I’ve been here before, in that blank room where everything is possibility – and sometimes very scary – I know to ground myself with housecleaning. I even look forward to these episodes – which come infrequently enough.

Once my writing room is clean, I’ll move on to the house. I’ll hoe out the cupboards, sort through stacks of outdated magazines, try to match orphaned socks.

This sifting through things becomes a meditation of discovery and organization. And I’m pretty sure that long before I’ve gone through every drawer and closet, I’ll find my story, and abandon my cleaning – until next time I finish a book.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com

Accounting For Your Time

Back in January, Wendy posted a piece about the Planner Pad – a system that helps the user organize her time and keep track of the all the events we juggle on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. The Planner Pad sounded so good, I bought one – and I love it. It really does help me keep track of and prioritize what it is I need to get done.

But keeping track of things to do is only half the equation, and for the past few years, I’ve also been keeping track of what I’ve actually done. I didn’t want just to cross things off the “to do” list, as if task-completion were the entire purpose of life. I wanted to see how I really spent my time, track what it was I did accomplish – since what I manage to do is not always what I set out to do. So I started keeping a second calendar.

This second calendar has a blank space for each day, and each day I note what I worked on, with whom I spoke with and/or exchanged emails, what I read, and how many miles I drove for business. I also often note what I did for exercise.

There are scientific studies that prove journaling is an effective tool for achieving weight-loss. I offer only anecdotal evidence for the use of journaling to boost productivity here: what I notice is that journaling helps me achieve consistent productivity as a writer.

I note what time I arrive at my desk, and I keep a retrospective log of what I worked on, including how much time I spend writing fiction or essays, marketing and/or reading. I note information of anyone I’ve contacted about marketing or pitching a story, and I track my submissions and invoices, too. This is not the only place I keep this information, but it is a handy back-up. I also note all my work-related miles, which is very handy come tax time.

This record keeping has taught me a few key lessons:

1)    Writing is slow work.  Some days, this is humbling: A project I allocated only two mornings to complete takes me a week. Correlating my prospective and retrospective calendars teaches me how better to estimate the time really needed for a job. It also helps me understand why I didn’t get to all the other things I’d planned to that week.

2)    Writing is slow work. It takes me years to write a novel. Literally. But as Lisa said so well in her recent post, it’s a matter of breaking huge projects into smaller sections. With my retrospective work log, I can see that I am making steady progress. Eventually, it all adds up.

3)     Writing is slow work. With my calendar, I can also see that consistent effort combined with persistence pays off. Seeing the value of consistency helps me return to my desk daily, pick up the thread of a story, and keep telling it.

Writing is slow work  – yes – especially when viewed as a day-to-day effort. But as seen through the pages of a retrospective calendar, it’s possible to get a better view of how many words you’ve put on the page in the course of a month, a quarter, a year. And sometimes, it’s not just a matter of words on a page, but time daydreaming at your desk, pulling characters, dialog and plots from thin air. So I show up at my desk every day – and I have the documentation to prove it.

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of the award-winning novel, Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” set in Vermont in 1964. She is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio and teaches for the Vermont Humanities Council. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com

Finding time to write with kids and Popsicle underfoot

Photo credit: redcargurl

Some of my kids have already finished the school year, the remaining ones will finish tomorrow. Summer has officially started.

And that means that I will reluctantly move into my least productive time of year with regard to writing. Between shuttling the kids to and from swim team practice, being interrupted because they want to know if they can go over a friend’s house, watching movies as a family in the evenings, and having to stop my work to give a driver money for (yet) more Popsicles, it starts to wear on you and it definitely breaks any train of thought.

I don’t know about you but without dedicated focus, I can’t write.

During the school year I get a good 4 to 5 hours of writing time each school day. When I shut the door to my office it stays shut until the kids start coming home in the afternoon. No one interrupts me (except of course for the dogs who announce the arrival of the mailman.) and I get to write to my heart’s content.

But not so when school lets out. It’s always the same and yet every summer I go into it with great hopes and expectations. Every year I think, this is going to be the summer when I really get things done. This is the summer I’m going to write that manuscript and get those large national articles out because when you think about it, Summer is the best time of year to write – I don’t have to put on layers of fleece and I don’t have to wear those Bob Cratchett gloves to keep my hands warm, I just have to be and think and write. Couldn’t be easier right?

Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids and I adore the fact that I have a job flexible enough it allows me to attend swim meets and impromptu ice cream trips, it’s just that I also like being able to contribute something to the world. I like being able to write.

And if I go too long without writing I tend to get cranky. And when a writer ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. Let’s just say you probably don’t want to meet me for the first time toward the end of summer vacation when I haven’t had the time to accomplish what I hoped I would.

This summer, though, I am determined to change things around. My kids are older and among the 6 of them we will have 3 extra drivers this year. The girls have figured out how to entertain themselves by playing with each other, neighborhood kids or inviting friends over. I don’t need to be around mu kids all day long. They’ve learned how to be independent. How to take care of themselves.

This is one time when it feels good not to be needed by my kids.

This summer I plan on setting up a schedule for writing. On the weekdays I’m going to pack up my computer and head out to the local library for 2 solid hours to work exclusively on my manuscript.

I’m going to keep a list of goals for the day and for the week. I’ll be checking this list as often as my kids will be opening the refrigerator door.

When the kids are downstairs watching the Disney Channel, I’m going to go upstairs to bang out an article or a blog post. Divide and conquer. If I take a few steps each day by the end of the summer I should be at my goal.

In short, I’m going to put my needs, not above, but certainly equal with those of my kids. I’m going to count too this summer. They’ll be happy that their mom is contributing and I’ll be happy that their mom is contributing. Win-win.

With a little bit of luck and perseverance, who knows? Maybe this WILL be the summer I finally get that manuscript out.

How are you going to make sure you continue writing once the kids are out of school?

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens).

[tweetmeme source=”wendyenthomas” only_single=false]

Similarities between writing fiction and non-fiction

There are fiction writers. There are non-fiction writers. And there are those (like me) who write fiction and non-fiction. Sure there are different approaches to the writing, depending on the type, but there are also a few similarities between the two for publication. If you write one type and have been hesitant to try the other, maybe this will help get you over the hurdle.

For both types of writing you need to:clip art of blank lined writing pad

Know your target audience – use terms and examples (words and scenes) applicable to the reader. If your topic is apple groves, the focus on it in a A YA mystery will be different from the focus in a how-to book. The details aren’t any less relevant, just presented in a different manner.

Remember the purpose –  build paragraphs around the point you are writing about. In non-fiction (article, essay, memoir, report, and so on), you need to support the subject, main point, thesis, or the event that is the reason for writing. In fiction, this translates to main goal of the protagonist and all paragraphs leading to the climax need to support that goal.

Stay within the guidelines – no matter what type of writing you do and no matter where you submit, you will need to follow word count limits, page formatting guides, and maybe even point of view limitations, among others.

Make it matter to your readers – this brings us full circle. You need to know your audience and you want them to care about what you’re saying. Every word matters in keeping the reader engaged and moving forward. The reader needs a reason to keep reading.  Keep the writing active and logical. Avoid long, passive, and meandering sentences.

As writers, our goal is to connect with an audience. It doesn’t matter the genre or category of writing, we do have the same ultimate goal. Right?

Can you think of other similarities?

Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has a blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2010