Monday, January 4, 2016

How To Make Effective Goals When Facing The Unknown

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series and the Ellie Sweet books. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

Hello, writers! Happy New Year!

A few weeks ago, when I noted the calendar counting down the final days of 2015, my mindlike manyturned to goals. Yes, I was thinking about what I wanted to accomplish in 2016, but I was thinking more about 2015.

Connor and Eli, two extra time-consuming
kiddos who I wouldn't trade for anything!
2015 was a weird year for me. My middle child, Connor, continued to battle epilepsy, which led us to a time-consuming medical diet. This time last year, I had no idea my youngest son was going to exist. Plus I was finishing up edits on a manuscript ... but would it sell? Should I be focusing on books that could complement it, or was that a waste of time?



We all have an element of unknown in our life, of course, but some years are much more unpredictable than others. When so much is unknown, how can you make realistic goals? Here are a few principles that helped me make the most of last year:


1. Think rocks, not sand.

Have you ever had that thing where you've never heard of a concept/idea/saying, and then once you do, you hear it everywhere? That's how it was for me with the jar of rocks and sand. I had never heard it and then—bam! It was everywhere. And I don't think that was a coincidence.

If you haven't heard it before, the idea is this: Say you have a collection of rocks, some sand, and a jar. If you put the sand in the jar first, you won't be able to fit many rocks. But if you put the rocks in first, the sand will fill around the rocks and the jar will hold a lot more.

I've found this such a helpful illustration when I think about my time that I keep a reminder of it on my desk:

I don't want to fill my life up with non-priority thingsshopping for the perfect pair of boots, keeping my house perfectly vacuumed, re-doing my very out-of-date laundry roomat the expense of the things that really matter to me, like time with my family or writing. Of course these are still things that need to happen, but I either choose to push them off to another season of life (redoing the laundry room) or fit them in during bits of time (cleaning and shopping) rather than chunks of time.

Even within the category of "writing," I have rock items and sand items. Maintaining Go Teen Writers and engaging with you all on the blog is a rock, as is the writing/editing of whatever my main project is at any given time. But being active on Twitter or Facebook, responding to emails, and getting together with other writers are all sand items for me. I fit them in around the rocks.

2. Think strategies, not numbers.

There have been times in my life when I needed goals like, "Write 1,000 words everyday," or, "I'm going to finish these edits by the end of the month." I had beautiful seasons of life when I had lots of time and lots of control over my time; those deadlines kept me from frittering it away.

Right now isn't one of those seasons. A goal of 1,000 words a day will only frustrate me. Weekly goals are more doable, but even those are hard to hit consistently. Not for lack of trying but for lack of time.

So instead of thinking in numbers or deadlines, I get strategic about what I'm going to do when. I know I will have some work time on the days when two of my kids are in school and the baby is napping, so I set aside that time for writing. Always. That's my strategy for making progress—however slow it may be—on my book. And I judge my success not by how many words I wrote or chapters I got edited but on how focused I was during the time I had.

3. Think community, not flying solo.

Back in early November, my friend, Roseanna White, told me she wanted to finish her first draft by the end of the year. Because Eli was only a few weeks old, I couldn't make a goal like that, but I started telling Roseanna how I intended to spend my work time that day or week..We got into a habit of updating each other on our progress. Then we would offer encouragement or, when needed, grace on days when writing time got hijacked.

The act of verbally expressing my daily goals to someone has been really good for me. That extra bit of accountability keeps me on track when I'm tempted to drift over to Pinterest or my newest obsession, Stuff You Missed In History Class. (Fabulous writing fodder!) It also helps me to be kind to myself when I'm not making the kind of progress that I wish I was.

Do you set writing goals for yourself? What works for you?


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27 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this, Mrs. Morrill. I have a very unpredictable year ahead of me and I needed some encouragement. :)

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    1. I hope this helps, Linea! I know I spent a number of years feeling frustrated when unpredictability got in the way of my goals.

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  2. I love the rock and sand concept, I might need to make a jar for myself so that I can remember it better :). Thanks for the wonderful post! (and by the way, I'm praying for Connor)

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    1. Thank you so much, Savannah! We're currently enjoying a season of seizure freedom but we still have a long way to go with him.

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  3. The Rock and Sand concept is fantastic! I thought about making writing goals, but I think that I'm going to take it slow for now. I'm trying to focus on one thing at the moment (which is the editing stage for a book I finished about a month ago) and I fear that if I start writing more books, I'll lose myself in that book and forget about editing.

    Are there any tools for character development? My mother said that some of my characters seem a bit flat.

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    1. I'm about to start a series of posts on characters, Bianca, but we do have a decent amount in the archives. Go to the "Looking for something specific?" tab and then scroll to characters for a decent list: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/p/looking-for-something-specific.html

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    2. Thank you and I'm looking forward to your upcoming posts.

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  4. I have a really busy life, and it's often difficult to find any time to write. If I find I have twenty minutes or so, then I'll sit down and write, but I'm not all that concerned about how much I write each day, because I'm simply too busy to be able to write every day. Instead I make my own deadlines and then work on them as I have time. This year, for example, I'd like to finish one of my first drafts. If I do that and have more time, I might start on another one before I start editing. And then, of course, there's the editing. And school.
    Busy year. :)

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    1. Sounds like you're balancing it all very well, Lily!

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  5. Thank you for the wisdom/encouragement, Stephanie. Really, really needed it as I face down a ton of unknown the next few months and onward. :)

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  6. Thank you so much for the advice. Such an encouragement and a good way to start off the year. I am a pretty busy person, so I really needed this to help me out!

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  7. I love the advice 'Think strategies, not numbers.' I've learned by now that goals work very well for me for first drafts, but not for revisions. Focusing on just making time to edit, rather than stressing about how quickly I'm working, has helped me a lot.

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    1. I'm the same way. I just have to plod along at the best pace that I can.

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  8. Thanks for the advice! I really like the rocks and sand concept. I have found that weekly or half-week goals work very well for me personally. It gives me a little wiggle room for when the unexpected happens, but also forces me to work toward a given goal on a nearly daily basis.

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    1. I'm similar. I have my "have to get done" items and then some non-urgent things that I'd like to make progress on if there's time. Like you, it keeps me focused without stressing me out.

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  9. The first concept is really great! I'd have to say actually writing my drafts is a rock and checking the Internet for research is sand.

    My goal this year is to finish two first drafts, and maybe one of them will be done during NaNoWriMo, unless I can already finish it at Camp NaNoWriMo.

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  10. Thanks for the advice! This'll definitely help me sort out my priorities

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  11. Yay, the first post of 2016! Thank you so much for this post, and I couldn't agree more. It can be very difficult to fit writing into our schedules, but the rocks and sand concept is brilliant! Happy new year everyone!

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    1. The rocks and sand has helped me a lot as I make decisions. I'm glad you found it helpful too!

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  12. Rocks and sand...that's such a cool analogy. This was a super helpful post for the stage of life I'm in. 2016 is probably the most "unknown" year I've had to face yet. :)

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  13. I love this! Thank you so much! What font size is usually used for a manuscript?

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    1. Industry standard is Times New Roman 12pt. Jill has a great tutorial on formatting a manuscript here: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-format-fiction-manuscript.html

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