You Can’t Win

Starting out a new year always seems like "Woo! A fresh beginning! A chance to start over!" with the implication that "This time, I'll do it right!"

Yeah.

I've got a couple of nits to pick with that.

First, the same applies to every morning. I prefer to look at each new day as a chance to start again. Every day is a New Year's Day, even if it's a Wednesday in the middle of April. Don't get me wrong. Year end is a year beginning and that's cool. It's like a door into the future - as soon as we enter, we can pretend everything gets reset. But if I get off on the wrong foot on January 15th, I'm screwed on an annual framework. When I only have to get through today? Well, Ground Hog Day. I can get up tomorrow and do something different.

Second, I'm not convinced "do it right" is a meaningful construct. The difficulty for me is figuring out what "right" is. Most times, I don't know until after I've done it whether it was right or not - 20/20 hindsight and all that. What's been more interesting to me is that I seem to learn the most from doing it "wrong" -  what I thought was "wrong" turned out to be pretty darn good. I'm not saying "Go break a window," but maybe you keep using that word "wrong" and I do not think it means what you think it means. At least not always.

Which brings me to looking at outlook, looking forward, and an aphorism that is more canard than value. You've probably heard it:

Writing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon.

Here's the thing.

It's half right. Writing isn't a sprint.

It's half wrong. Writing isn't a marathon.

By trying to treat it as a race of any kind, it sounds like there should be a finish line. A tape you can break with your chest as you cross that line or a trophy you can collect on the way out of the stadium.

Maybe it's different for you, but for me, writing is neither sprint nor marathon. It's not a race. It's a way of life and nobody gets out alive. While that may sound moribund, for me it's an important reminder that, however we look at writing, we each have a finite amount of time to practice our craft. I see that as a challenge worth rising to. I see that as a really good reason to keep getting up every morning and putting on my writing shoes. It's a good reminder at this cusp of a year that whatever happened last year happened. What matters most is what happens today, and I'll see what I can do to make sure I leave as many good stories behind as I can without worrying about whether or not I'm winning.

Because with writing, you can't win. You can only do.

Here's to a productive and prosperous new year to all my friends in RMFW. May you all keep doing.

Image credit: Webweaver's Clipart

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.

IT’S BACK

red-skyI knew the second revision letter on RED SKY would arrive at some point, but I didn’t expect it the day before Thanksgiving with a December 5th deadline for turning it around.

I’m thankful I have a contract.

I read the email, but I haven’t opened the document yet. This weekend was earmarked for family and friends. It will end short—tomorrow.

I’m thankful for the three day holiday and for turkey.

One of the most difficult things for me is finding a way to balance the writing time with personal time with the business of writing time.

In the past three weeks, I’ve had three events—a presentation at Chautauqua, the Boulder Audubon Holiday Sale and a signing at the Covered Treasures Bookstore in Monument this afternoon—and there are still more to come: RMFW’s Holiday Party, Colorado Authors’ League Holiday Party; a bookclub event in Pueblo; and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America’s “Mystery and Mistletoe” Holiday Celebration at the Denver Press Club on December 8th. Twelve of us will be reading. Margaret Coel will be honored. Francine Mathews is emceeing. The Broadway Book Mall will handle book sales. It’s from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. You should come. Tickets are $10 at the RMMWA website.

I’ve also written two blogs, updated my Facebook and Twitter pages, and read a number of books for a competition I’m judging.

The business of writing.

lightsWith the holidays, we have family in town, dinners to cook, presents to buy, a Christmas letter to write. This year we’re in a new house, and I’m excited to decorate and make it feel more like home. Downsizing has been a hard transition for me and I need to take time to put up and decorate the tree, hang the lights and fill the house with the smell of cookies.

Personal time.

But what happens when the RED SKY revision is done? The publisher is already asking what’s coming. I have an idea. I’ve done a little research, done a little plotting. I need to open a new WORD document, type Chapter 1 and put down the next 99,998 words.

Writing time.

I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given, excited for the coming opportunities and busy making New Year's resolutions.

1. Work on creating better balance in my life in 2017. Or as Jedeane Macdonald would tell me — learn to say NO.

Here's wishing all of you a very happy holiday season. See you in the New Year!!