2017 – THE YEAR OF BALANCE

I am not a big believer in your standard New Year's resolutions. They tend to be broad and sweeping statements like: I will lose weight. I will exercise more. I will finish my book. But I am a believer in setting goals, so when I received J.T. Ellison's 2016 Annual Review, I took it to heart.

For the past eight years, J.T. Ellison has been doing annual reviews of her life and work, based on the format first posted on Chris Guillebeau's blog. Here's a link to the actual post entitled "How to Conduct Your Own Annual Review." J.T. notes that his method is incredibly detailed, and she's right. I downloaded the spreadsheet link on Chris' website, and it's daunting. Still, I looked at several of J.T.'s past year's annual reviews, read Guillebeau's how-to, and tackled the job. Here's what came of it—and I expect you to hold me accountable. I am going to detail my goals (just like J.T. did), but I'm going to keep the focus primarily on my work goals (as I doubt most of you are interested in my personal life).

2017 is the year I find balance in life.

For me, sometimes the lines between my work life and my personal life blur, making it hard to juggle all the demands of either. Using the spreadsheet I downloaded off of Chris Guillebeau's website, I have come up with a game plan I hope will allow me to be more productive, increase my visibility as a writer and develop more time for me to regenerate my creativity.

Work Life:

I am most productive when I write consistently for a set amount of time, and I can be easily distracted by social media. I tend to check email and binge on Facebook, Twitter and blogging, which eats up a considerable amount of time. And it isn't an effective use of my social media, marketing and writing time. Scheduling time in each day for writing and then the business side of writing will create a better balance in my professional life. By setting word count goals, defining the purpose for my social media/email time, and defining tasks that will help improve my productivity and profile, I will achieve more success and be more fulfilled as a writer.

Personal Life:

On the personal side, by devoting/designating time to family and friends and creative endeavors outside of my writing, and through continued downsizing, de-cluttering and implementing practices that improve my health, I will replenish myself, enabling me to better both at work and at play.

The Specifics

It's easy to give broad strokes (like above), and harder to outline specific goals with specific deadlines. Here's what I came up with. NOTE: this isn't everything, but it's a start for sharing on a blog.

Category #1 – Writing Production

 Dedicated writing time. I am most productive in the morning, and I'm only really productive for about 4 hours at a time. Beginning immediately, I plan to devote 4 hours every day, every morning before 1:00 PM, Monday through Friday, five days a week.

 Dedicated writing business time. By afternoon I am not as creative. Beginning immediately, I plan to devote a minimum of 2 hours every day, Monday through Friday, five days a week, to answering emails, updating websites, writing and commenting on blogs, perusing and posting to social media sites, in conversation with my agent, publisher, publicist, etc.

 Set specific writing goals. I decided, writing 4 hours a day, I could produce at a minimum 600 words a day, 18,000 words a month and 216,000 words a year. I didn't set any goals for non-fiction, though I think I'll try and track it. It might be interesting to see how much time and how many words I spend writing for blogs, etc. I will not be as detailed as J.T. – figuring out time for writing emails and Tweets, but I figure by tracking word count for blog posts and other things I can quantify, and by tracking my hours spent on non-fiction, I can see if I am giving more weight to the business of writing or writing.

Category #2 – Increase my Writing Profile (In other words, work on my "branding," and building readers.)

With a book coming out in June, I have a lot to do in this realm. I write in two genres (mystery and thriller) and the books and audiences are very different. Figuring out how to best present myself on social media, my website and in marketing materials has been a real challenge. This year my main focus is on marketing my new thriller, RED SKY, scheduled to hit the stands on June 13th. All of the following goals need to be completed by June 13th.

 Learn how to better use social media. I will hit up friends, my children, and attend a few writers' workshops and online courses to try and figure this out. My main focus will be on my blogs (I write for RMFW and Rogue Women Writers), my Facebook page, my Twitter page and my website.

 Update my social media platforms. I have a nice head shot that has served me well for two years (thank you, Mark Stevens), but I just had some new photos taken for my new book cover (watch for the reveal). To tweak my brand, I need to upload new pictures, new book covers and new links across my social media platforms.

 Set up appearances. This gets expensive (figure $1,000 per out-of-town conference and sometimes a bookstore charge for a signing, though usually that's paid for by my publisher). Because it's easy to over-saturate a market, I plan to limit the number of local signings, and do some regional and national outreach.

 Set up a blog tour.

Categories #3 to #8 address my personal goals—specifically improving my health through diet and exercise; spending time with family and friends; reducing debt; focusing on creative projects; continuing my downsizing efforts; and planning some personal travel. (I want to go somewhere with my husband to celebrate our 35th anniversary, coming up in April.)

As I said, this is just a sliver of the commitments I have made to myself. I'm optimistic that with specific goals coupled with specific deadlines, I may have a chance of reaching my objectives. Of course, reading J.T.'s 2016 review, it's clear that many things may fall by the wayside. Still, intent and effort count for something. I may not achieve everything, but I know I'll achieve something—and there's hope I will find balance in 2017.

The Sane Writer Goes To Conference

By Kerry Schafer

Most of us head off to writing conferences with enthusiasm and great expectations. We plan to learn, meet with like minded people, and get our creative batteries recharged. We expect to come home brimful of energy, all ready to conquer new and wonderful writing worlds.

But just maybe you've headed off to a writer's conference in the past all full of hope and expectation, only to come home feeling like somebody sucked your soul out through your eyeholes and then used it for target practice.

If so, you're not alone and there's nothing wrong with you.

Writer's conferences are big, busy, and supercharged with emotion, information, and expectation---exactly the sort of environment in which an extrovert thrives and grows. But most writers are introverts. We get recharged home alone in the quiet with a good book and maybe some good tunes on the playlist. Crowds drain and exhaust us.

So should you just keep your introverted little soul at home then, swilling coffee or booze and watching the cons all unfold through tweets and pictures and Facebook posts? Because this isn't very good for sanity either.

Part of the problem is the fear of missing something that most of us still carry around from when we were little kids. If I take a nap right now, what am I going to miss? Maybe the ice cream man, or the Easter Bunny or a big purple dinosaur riding a tricycle down the middle of main street. And if we don't nap then we get crabby and tired and if the dinosaur does show up we're in the middle of an exhaustion induced tantrum at the time and miss him anyway.

Right? So I think conferences become much more manageable (and enjoyable) if we are able to give up on the idea of  experiencing everything and are able to focus in on one primary purpose.

There are a lot of possible options. Maybe you want to learn more about craft, or need to explore new strategies for marketing. Maybe you're searching for an agent, or want to place a manuscript with an editor. Or your intention could simply be to network, have fun, or get as drunk as possible every night at the hotel bar.

Setting a primary purpose doesn't mean you can't involve yourself in other things. It does give you a focus, an ability to turn down the static and not be overwhelmed by trying to pay attention to All Of The Things. It means you can skip a session of classes and hang out in your room. Maybe even take a nap.

There are three steps to creating a mindful goal.

1. Define for yourself what is your primary reason for attending this conference at this time. (Hint: this may be different for every con you go to)

Ask yourself, "If I get only one thing out of this conference, I want it to be _________."

If you're struggling with this, stop and make a list of All The Things you want to accomplish. Tell yourself you have to give one up. What will it be? Cut that one out. Repeat, until the primary goal is left.

2. Make sure your goal is something over which you have control. Look at your statement of purpose from step one and see if this is true. For example:

"At this con I will get an agent," is a fabulous goal, but not one over which you have control. Your agent--the one who is out there looking for you--may not even be at the conference. Or maybe you're not quite ready to meet her yet.

Consider modifying the goal to, "At this con I will focus on connecting with agents."

3. Tailor your conference experience toward this goal. If your purpose is the example above, then sign up for pitches. Go to the classes that teach pitching, or that talk about premise and synopsis. As other writers to help you practice.

Once you're pursued your primary goal for the day, If you have the energy and the inclination to do other things, perfect. If not, also perfect. You'll come home feeling like you accomplished what you set out to do. Sure, you'll still be tired and might want to avoid people for awhile, but hopefully with your self and soul still intact.