Secret of Success: Make Goals and Achieve Them

It’s a new year and that means a perfect opportunity to set goals. As well as the lose the Christmas pounds and floss more goals, consider setting goals for your writing.

I’m not talking about big goals, like get an agent or publish a book. You’re always working toward those. But before you can achieve those goals, you have to write a great book — an interesting, marketable, ready-to-publish great book. And to do that, you have to write a first draft, then a second, then a third, and as many more as necessary. And to do that, you have to formulate a story idea and characters and settings… You get the picture.

With so many steps, getting an agent or publish a book  might seem daunting, and almost unachievable. But creating a story? Doable. Making an outline? Doable. Writing a chapter? Doable.

Wherever you are in your process, pick short, doable goals and work your butt off to achieve them. When you’re done, choose more goals and achieve them. Before you know it, you’ll have attained the bigger goals you always wanted.

In January last year, I set goals for 2012 that I would finish my current work in progress and write the first draft of my next novel. Throughout the year, I set up smaller goals, daily word counts, etc., to help me achieve the bigger goals. Although I didn’t always make my smaller goals in the allotted time, I made up for them, and by the time December rolled around, I had made my bigger goals.

Now it’s January again. I’m going to try to challenge myself a bit and go for slightly bigger goals. Here are mine:

  • Revise the first draft I wrote last year til it’s fully polished
  • Write the first draft of a new story
  • Re-write an older book that’s been sitting on my shelf.

First up: the second draft of my WIP. I want to have it done by the end of January, so I’ve set up a daily goal of 20 pages.

Have you set goals for your year?

New year, new goals

Fireworks 2012Hello 2012!

Despite what the Mayans and filmmaker Roland Emmerich think will happen in 2012, I think it’s going to be a great year. That’s the wonderful thing about a new calendar — possibilities to make everything better.

This year, I have my usual resolutions, to be a better person, be more patient, spread more love. But the new year is also a good time to make new goals for our writing, as well as plans to help us stick to them.

The key to making goals is to not make them too big. Make goals that are reasonable and reachable. Say “I want to be a best-selling author,” and you’ve set yourself up for a goal that’s hard to attain, especially as it takes the publishing industry a couple of years to get a book on shelves. But say “I want to write a novel” or “I want to improve my writing skills” and you’ve got a goal you can achieve in a year.

Once you’ve made your goal, break it down to smaller parts and put them in your schedule. You want to write a novel this year? Figure out your goal word count, based on the type of novel you want to write, then divide it by the number of weeks you want to write it in. You can even go further and divide it by days. If you miss a day, don’t worry, you can make it up the next day or sometime in the week to keep you moving toward your overall goal. Keep a word count calendar to track your progress.

If your goal is to improve your writing skills, make a list of the types of skills you want to work on then find classes, books and blogs that can help you. Break those down into smaller parts, for example, read a book on structure in January, take a class on dialog in February through March, read blog posts for an hour every Wednesday. Again, keep a calendar to track your progress.

So set your goals, make your plans and follow through. Making small goals that are easy to reach will help keep you motivated, and that’ll keep you writing. And that’s the most important thing.

My goal for 2012 is to write two novels, one in the first half of the year and one in the second. On to the planning!

Finding inspiration in writing groups

Manuscript update: Current word count is 13,842. It’s coming along.

A new young adult/middle grade writers group has started up in my area, and I went to my first meeting last Saturday and will definitely be going back.

The second meeting of the new group, Saturday’s was focused on prioritizing techniques so we can all make sure we can get our writing time in with everything else — something true to my heart with this blog. But, I’ll be honest, I almost skipped the meeting because I thought, I’m good with organizing. I’ve carved out my writing time each day. I made the change to stop finding time to write and start making time to write a few years ago. I’m on top of it! (Even if I have been missing a lot of writing lately because of

I went anyway, and I’m so  glad I did.

During the meeting, I learned lots of new ways of keeping my writing on track, one of which I’ve already incorporated: Set an event in your calendar/phone, whatever with an alarm, for the time you need to start writing with a reminder 15 minutes before. (Many thanks to my friend Chantee for this one.) If you want to read more of the techniques we learned, fellow YA/MG meeter Vonna Carter wrote about them.

But the most important thing for me that I took away from that group meeting is a feeling of support. I left feeling energized, and that I’m not alone in my writing. I’ve got all the people in that group in my corner, just like I’m in theirs. I get support from my critique group too, but it’s different. In critique group, we just work on our five pages. In this new group, we work on everything, and doing it with all these wonderful writers, feels great.

And in between the monthly meetings, we can keep in touch for mini inspiration with our Yahoo group.

One of the best parts is that at the end of the meeting, we all set goals to get done before the next meeting. They’ve been recorded so we can’t forget, and we’ll all support each other to get those done throughout the month. How great is that?

If there’s a group like this in your area, I recommend joining. If not, start up one yourself. Ask your local bookstore if you can put up a poster and/or set something up through your local SCBWI group.

Or keep an eye on this blog, and I’ll give you a jolt of inspiration after every one of my meetings.

Got any other writing support tips?

Write On!

P.S. If you’re a fan of HBO’s True Blood, check out the cool Disc Dish contest to win a copy of the True Blood: The Complete Second Season DVD or Blu-ray.

Making writing a priority

I’ve talked about this before, but I just read a post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner and thought that this is something worth repeating.

Rachelle answered a reader’s question about tips on time management by saying that prioritizing her work is the best way she knows of getting through the day. She also talks about the things she DOESN’T do so she has time to do her work. Here’s a quote:

I’ve dispensed with a lot of non-necessary things in life… things I’d like to do if I could! But the path I’ve chosen means I’ve had to let go of some things. For example: I don’t scrapbook. I don’t knit. I don’t separate the whites from the colors… don’t clip coupons… don’t grow a garden… don’t make jam… don’t bake my own bread… don’t go to PTA meetings… don’t make my kids’ Halloween costumes… don’t homeschool… don’t remember everyone’s birthday… don’t run marathons… don’t go for manicures or pedicures… don’t watch Oprah. I don’t even vacuum or dust (I delegate those tasks).

A writer friend of mine has been struggling with finding time to write. She’s a single mother of three with a demanding job, and she’s trying to also live out her love of writing and fulfill her dream of getting her work published. She writes beautifully, and I have no doubt that if she preserveres, she will get her dream. But sometimes her schedule is so hectic, she doesn’t write for a few weeks or months, and she misses it. Of course, her addiction to TMZ doesn’t help either.

For us writers, writing is not something we think about sometimes and would maybe like to do if we have time — it’s something we have to do, something that pulls on our mind, begs us to pay attention. It’s a desire, a need. And when we’re not writing, we don’t feel entirely whole. We know that something is missing.

Rachelle’s quote reminded me that to make time to write — not find time, make time — is imperative. It’s the best thing we can do for us as people as well as for our dreams. Because we’re happier writing. And to make time to write, we often have to forego other things.

Like Rachelle, there are lots of things I don’t do that I would love time to do: I don’t do puzzles … knit … learn to play a musical intrument … get my hair cut as often as I should … keep the garden as nice as I would like … finish decorating my house … get my nails done … chat with friends … And ditto on everybody’s birthdays (sorry to my friends and families — know you’re in my thoughts).

 This might sound selfish, and it is to a point. But it’s something I have to do right now, and my hope is that one day, I might be able to just have writing as my job, cutting out one of the tasks during the day. We’ll see.

My point is, if writing is important to you, make the time. I get up early in the morning so I can work on my novel before the sun comes up. Find your time and be selfish about that time. Make the time for your family and friends, you need that too, but look at your life and see what you can cut out or cut down on so you can use that time to write — then be selfish about those minutes or hours. They’re yours. Use them well.

Write On!

Author Interview: Rachel Dillon

Today on Day By Day Writer, we welcome debut author Rachel Dillon, a fellow member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Rachel is currently doing a blog tour talking about her book Through Endangered Eyes: A Poetic Journey Into the Wild, published by Windward Books.

Rachel Dillon

Rachel Dillon

Here’s her bio:

Rachel Dillon was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Wisconsin, Madison and graduated in 1994 with a Bachelor of Science in Art, emphasizing in Graphic Design. Outside of art, Dillon held a special interest in evolution and extinction and took several classes in paleontology, and geology. Her passion for animals grew as she learned more about endangered species.

Her book is beautiful, so check it out. Now onto the interview:

Rachel, I read that you were in marketing. Did you always want to be a children’s book writer/illustrator, or is it something you stumbled on?

Stumbling is a great analogy. I hadn’t ever thought about writing a children’s book and most certainly not doing illustrations. It all just seemed to fall in place. My book combines all the things I love: children, animals, painting and writing. I went to UW-Madison, for art and graphic design. I was in marketing for many years after college.  I think my goal now is to say, when someone asks what I do for a living, “I am an author and artist.”

Poetry is an amazing form of writing — one I’m terrible at, so I’m in awe of those who can write it. Did you study poetry before you wrote the poems for this book or is poetry something that comes easy to you?

I really haven’t had formal training in writing and poetry, other than college classes in English Literature. I know when I was growing up, I would express myself with poems and lyrics. As a mom, I love books with clever rhymes. I can’t stand rhymes that don’t quite sound right. There is a rhythm, a cadence, and a rhyming poem flows or it doesn’t. I wrote what sounded right to me.

book_cover_tee-squareYour book is about endangered animals. What is it about endangered animals that inspires you?

My sadness inspires me. My heart aches when I hear stories about animals and what has happened to make them endangered. There is something so innocent about animals. They are driven to survive. I also believe that everything has a purpose on Earth. Each species is unique and interesting, and when you eliminate one species, others will be affected. I know that extinction is part of nature, but I have read the rate of extinction is occuring at an unnatural rate.

Your painting style was inspired during a trip to Australia. Could you tell us more about that?

When I was 19, I took my third trip to Eastern Australia. My aunt and uncle live in a town called Ulladula, the sweetest place on the coast. We travelled south to Canberra, where I was inspired by all the Aboriginal Acrylic Dot Paintings. They were in galleries; on the sides of buses; in museums; and even on sidewalks. I loved the colors, patterns and textures. I learned more about the dot painting technique in books, although resources were slim in the U.S. I decided to try out the technique on some of my own art projects and loved it. Painting in dots is soothing and meditative and after 16 years, my technique is still evolving.

How did you go about designing the book? Were there specific things you wanted to achieve?

I wanted to create something unique, that children had never seen before. I wrote the text first and painted the animals second, so they were consistant with the poems. It is important to me that the children understand the issues that endangered animals face, as well as how each species is unique and has a job to do on the planet. The facts help to break down the poem for the child or reader, so it can make a real impact. I wanted to create something beautiful that people would want to take with them as they grew up.

I read that many of your poems were written on scraps of paper at a stoplight while you were taking your daughter to daycare. As a writer or illustrator with a day-job, it can sometimes be difficult to fit in your passion, and even more difficult to keep it going long enough to finish the work and see it through to publication. What kept you going? And in what ways did you make the time to finish Through Endangered Eyes?

I am a Taurus. 😉 I am stubborn, and when I get an idea in my head, I do my best to see it through. I also had a lot of people that believed I could do it, and a lot who didn’t think I could — which motivated me more. Most of all, I believed that what I was creating was important for kids to read. I want to make a difference for animals, and this was one way I thought I could help.

Creating the book was my creative escape. It was time for me. I fit writing and painting in any time and place that I can. It is so easy to for me to pay attention to the needs of others and forget myself. My book and the commitment to my publisher was the motivation I needed to complete the project.

Talking about publishers, please tell us about your journey to publication after your book was finished.

It took a LONG time to get published. I started writing the book “Through Endangered Eyes” in 2002.

I submitted to 3 publishers in 2003. With 2 illustrations and all of my text for nine species + human.

My first publisher, Stemmer House, sent me a contract in 2004. After I thought I completed the book, they asked me in 2005 to take the book from 9 species, to twenty. Many drafts later, I thought I completed the book again in 2006.

My first editor, Craig Thorn sadly passed away in 2006. 😦 I was released from my contract from Stemmer House in February 2007. After which, I submitted to 14 publishers. I lost count of rejections.

In February 2008, I got a call from Windward Publishing, and they wanted my book! I signed the contract with them that month. A new draft, with their suggested changes was sent to them in April 2008. After three more drafts, my book was completed in December of 2008 and published in January 2009.

What a rollar coaster ride, especially when I have a hard time being patient.

Wow! That must have been emotional. I understand you’re working on a second book, again about the wild kingdom. Please tell us about it.

My second book has a working title of “Through Desert Eyes.” I have chosen 21 desert species that are endangered from all over the world. I will include a couple of pages about desert ecosystems and how species are adapted to a dry environment. I want to talk to more specialists for this book and not rely as much on the internet research. I am very exciting about the paintings too. I have matured as an artist through this publishing process.

Could you tell us a bit about the types of things you’re doing to market Through Endangered Eyes?

At each reading I give away bookmarks, so if the kids are interested in the book, my Web address is on it, so their parents have a place to buy the book. For the teachers or event coordinators, I give out a notecard and a magnet with an image from the book on it. I have my blog, my Web site, business cards, a facebook page, and I always carry a box of my books in my car, ready to sell! I am building a mailing list from the checks I receive, so I can mail out postcards if I have a new painting out, or have an event coming up. I also have a large email list that I use to promote things. I send out a press release to the local papers and add to their online calendar, if I have an event coming up. For events that are unique, I will contact the local TV stations and see if I can do a morning show visit. I would love to be a part of a local NPR giveaway, during their fundraising event. So many options.

In the future, I want to add video of me reading my book, and audio of me reading the book; keep posting images from the classrooms I visit, and events I do. I want my blog and site to remain interesting so that people return for more information.

My favorite thing to do as a marketer is to do readings and visit schools. The comments and enthusiasm, makes the book all worth while!

What advice do you have for first-time writers and illustrators pursuing their dream?

1. Be patient.

2. Research. You’ll cut your rejections if you find out what the publisher wants.

3. Stay positive during editing. I have probably gone through hundreds of manuscript changes, not to mention changes to my illustrations before my final book was completed.

4. Lastly, believe in your work. If you believe what you have created is amazing, someone else will agree.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Rachel. Good luck with Through Endangered Eyes, and we look forward to seeing Through Desert Eyes on shelves soon. You can read more about Rachel on her website,, and her blog.

Write On!

Goals and deadlines

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been somewhat of an absentee blogger lately. First I was busy, then I was sick, then I was busy and sick, and now I’m back to busy. And when I say busy, I don’t mean I have writing deadlines for my novel that I have to achieve. (I wish!) I’m talking about the other stuff, my day-job, laundry, day-job, gardening, cooking, day-job, grocery shopping, oh, and did I mention my day-job? Not that I’m complaining; the way things are going, I’m very very grateful to have a day-job — and my prayers go out to those of you who have been affected by lay-offs. I’m just offering it up as one of the reasons why I haven’t been here very much.

It’s also why I think goals and deadlines are so important for us writers, those of us in this boat.

When everything else is so hectic, sometimes, the last thing you want is to have one more thing to do and think about, especially if it’s not getting you anything — like a pay check — and there’s no one breathing down your neck saying, “Are you done yet?”. So, if you’re not at the part of your writing career yet where you have a deal with a publisher and a deadline when you have to get your next book in, writing can come after all the other things on your to do list.

But, the Catch 22 (to reference a published book) is that, if you don’t carve writing into your schedule, you never will be in that position where you have a deal with a publisher…

So, that’s where the drive to write comes in. If you really want to do this, you really want to make writing a career, you have to fit it in now, not tomorrow or the next day — now. Because if you wait until tomorrow because you’re too busy today, your to do list will just continue to grow, and tomorrow you’ll be just as busy if not more.

Drive to tell a story is what makes us sit in front of a computer every day whether we’re getting paid for it or not. But sometimes, when there are so many other things that need our attention, drive might not be enough. That’s when goals and deadlines come in.

When Kathi Appelt was writing the first draft of her first novel, The Underneath, she had problems with doubts sneaking into her mind and disrupting her writing. Kathy created deadlines for herself to force herself to work through the doubts and write. Once she did that, she managed to finish her novel. And The Underneath was just named a Newbery Honor Book by the American Literary Association; congratulations, Kathi!

Goal or deadline setting has its own challenges, though. You don’t want to defeat your purpose by getting frustrated. So, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Set goals or deadlines that you can achieve with your current workload.
  • Set specific goals or deadlines, such as to write 500 words a day or 10 pages a week, instead of just to write a novel. The less specific you make the goal or deadline, the easier it is to not achieve it.
  • Keep your goals and deadlines short-term leading to a long-term plan. If you want to write a novel, make an outline your first goal, then character profiles your next goal, then chapeter 1, etc.
  • Celebrate when you achieve a goal or deadline. If you set the goal of writing five pages a day for a week and you achieve that, give yourself something nice, a warm bath, an hour in the sun, a glass of wine, a chocolate chip cookie, whatever you’d like that can say, I did it. Writing can get lonely, so feel good about rewarding yourself.
  • Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t achieve a goal or deadline. But note how close or far you were and aim to do better next time. Things always pop up, and, as I mentioned, we all have a million things pulling at our attention. If you miss a goal, it’s not the end of the world. Just don’t let it bring you down, because the worst thing you can do is say, I don’t have time for this, and then not write at all. That’s why it’s so important to set realistic goals, keep them short-term and celebrate our achievements.

I’m doing exactly this right now. Last Monday, I started the polish of my novel and, thankfully, got through nine chapters (I write short chapters). I have 33 chapters in my novel. So, I’ve set a goal of having the entire novel polished in a month from now, by March 15. I have 24 chapters to do in four weeks, so that’s 6 chapters a week. I just did 9 in one week, so setting a goal of 6 a week is doable for me, and gives me added time in case anything comes up. If I do more than 6 chapters one week, I’ll just finish earlier and celebrate more.

So, set some goals and/or deadlines and get some writing done.

Write On!

Getting organized

I don’t know if it’s the summer heat, the late nights or the extra day-job hours I worked last week, but getting up early to write just wasn’t happening. I resolve to do better this week, and started off with getting up at 6:30 this morning to get a bunch done. It feels good.


But, because there are days, sometimes weeks, that zip by without me getting in some writing, I’ve felt the need for better organization to help me remember the details of the story and help me write it.


You’ve probably heard of having — or have — a character bible, or a file somewhere that lists the main attributes of your character. I created one in a Word doc when I was writing the first draft and formulating the characters. When ideas popped in my head, I jotted them down, noting which ones I was using and which I was keeping around just in case. It’s an informal jumble of a doc and not terribly useful anymore.


So, now that I’m revising the book, I’m creating a new character bible, this time in Excel. I’ve got a worksheet for every main character and a misc for events or misc characters that pop up. And I had fun color-coding the tabs on each sheet. I don’t really know what the colors represent, but they look fun.


The sheets contain discriptions, characterizations, actions, etc., some copied out of the novel itself. Anything I need to help me make sure the character stays the same throughout. If he has blue eyes at the beginning, he can’t suddenly have green eyes in the middle. Clicking on his Excel sheet is much faster than trying to find his description in 200+ pages of novel.


Now that I’m going back through my novel, I’m noticing things at the beginning that I had set up to recur throughout or later in the book, but somewhere along the lines, after a hiatus, they had been forgotten. Now, I’m jotted those down too, in things-to-do-in-the-revision notes and in my bible.


To help save me time, as time is limited between the day-job, housework and life in general, I’ve also created a Words Excel file. Here, I’m collecting lists of useful words that I need often. For example, walking or looking are things a character will probably do a lot in a book, but good writing is about using the word that best describes the way he walked or looked. The problem is that, at 6 in the morning, or during a day-job lunch hour as you write keeping one eye on your watch, the most creative words might not come to you. That’s fine. That’s what revision is for. But having a list of words you can pluck from is helpful, especially words that fit your story or your character. It’s like having a thesaurus that only gives you the words that will work for you.


Of course, you could just search the thesaurus every time, but sometimes, you might have to search a couple times to find the right word, taking up precious time. But if you’ve found this word once before and recorded it in an Excel file, or however you like to get organized, you can look it up again easily and quickly when you need it again later in the novel.


For example, in my novel, I’ve got a character who tends to fight a lot. Look up “fight” in the thesaurus, and you get a bunch of words like scrap, tussle, battle. But if you need words the characters might say as they threaten each other, you’ve got to look up a word like “pulverize,” which gets you a few more words, like demolish, destroy, annihilate. But then you need words for the fight itself, so you look up “punch”, and you  get box, smack, swat. Not all these words will work for a middle-grade novel in the point of view of an 11-year-old boy. So, after I’ve done these searches once, I can record all the words pertaining to fighting that will fit my story and characters. Now, when he has another fight in 20 pages, I’ve already got a bunch of words at my finger tips.


You can do the same for “walked”, recording strut, stumble, stroll, and “looked”, recording glimpsed, glared, leered, ogled. How many times do you write, “character A walked to the door”. Now, you can quickly and easily make it more creative, “character A strolled to the entryway” (ok, not brilliant, but you get the idea).


And you can use Excel’s sorting tool to put all the words in alphabetical order for quick browsing.


I don’t know if these tools will work for you, but I’ve found them useful, and hope you will to.


What do you do to stay organized with your writing?


Write On!


In today’s Writer’s Market enewsletter, readers talked about how well — or not — they are keeping up with their 2008 goals, and one reader offered up what I think is a pretty good idea. (Click here to see the web version of the enewsletter.)

Thank you Dawn Herring for her idea of setting up a goals calendar. In her monthly calendar, Dawn records her progress each day so she can see how well she is doing toward her full 2008 year. That way, she won’t have that “Holy crap! It’s June and I’m no where near where I want to be” feeling.

Dawn says the calendar also keeps her motivated on the target. Sounds like a winner to me.

A couple months ago, I set a goal that by the end of June I will be finished with the first draft of my middle-grade novel and done with all the drawings for the Sir Newton’s Color Me Florida book. I think both of those are still doable, as long as I keep moving.

The reason behind Dawn’s calendar is part of the reason I started this blog: to keep me on track, accountable. And it does, somewhat, provide me with a record of how I’m doing. So far, this blog has helped me to keep writing, knowing I have to post messages on how well I’m doing.

You can use this blog for the same reason too. As I post how I’m doing with my goals, you can post how you’re doing and we’ll keep each other on track.

If you’d prefer something more visual, try Dawn’s calendar idea. Thanks, Dawn.

Write On!