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?


Go Beyond Your Writing Comfort Zone

Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter

A friend of mine posted a link to her TEDx talk yesterday and even though she didn’t mention writing once, I kept thinking about me and my work as I listened to her. Tanya Streeter is a freediver — a world record breaking one at that — and her talk was about the obstacles she had to overcome to break that record.

Tanya’s dive didn’t start with the perfect conditions. A few bad breaths prior to diving, and Tanya found herself at 500-plus feet below the surface disoriented and in trouble. As she tells it, she was out of her comfort zone. This was territory she hadn’t faced before. But when you’re a freediver, unknown territory 500-plus feet below the surface is a very dangerous thing.

A thought pushed into Tanya’s head, a strong one, that if she didn’t make it back up, everyone she loved would be sad. Needless to say, she made it back up.

In her talk, which I’ve embedded below, Tanya goes on to give other examples of times that she has found herself out of her comfort zone — above and below the sea’s surface — and had to take a deep breath and push through. I’ll let you listen to her for more.

But for writers, there’s a lesson here. Sure, if we don’t get our word count in on any given day we’re not likely to drown. But going out of our comfort zone is something we all deal with — or should be — in our writing.

Writing is personal, so very personal, and to make the most of the stories we tell, we need to put our heart and soul in them. For private people, which many writers are, that can be very difficult. But if we don’t do it, we’re cheating our story, stopping it from becoming what it could be.

Delving deep into our emotions, putting our characters into the most uncomfortable situations, making them bare the feelings that we like to lock away is daunting. But as writers, that’s what we have to do.

Paul Gallico, author of The Poseidon Adventure, said, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader.” Sportswriter Red Smith was similarly quoted as saying, “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Opening our veins and bleeding is definitely beyond anyone’s comfort zone. But when we go beyond our comfort zone, that’s when we create our best work.

And, although — unlike with Tanya’s freediving — it won’t kill us, it will make us stronger writers.

Next time you feel like you’re holding back with your writing, hesitating to go as far as the words are wanting you to go, think of Tanya Streeter, take a deep breath and go for it.

Here’s the video of Tanya’s talk. It’s about 16 mins and worth your time. As well as her inspirational content, Tanya talks about something close to her heart, the dangers of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Book Review: Techniques of the Selling Writer

Techniques of the Selling WriterAlthough this book is an oldie, I figure it’s never bad to get re-introduced to good works.

If you haven’t heard of it, Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, was originally published in 1965, but, except for some writing demonstrations that are a bit outdated, the book itself remains a goldmine for writers today.

Swain was a writer and longtime teacher of professional writing at the University of Oklahoma, and his book is filled with advice of how to create fiction that will appeal to the masses — and such, make money. He deals with conflict, structure and characters in a casual and inspiring way, offering plenty of fun examples to show his theory in action.

For example, when he encourages writers to choose the right word, to dig down and provide detail, he says:

“Broadly speaking, the thing you need to avoid is the general as contrasted with the particular (reptile creates a less vivid image than does rattler); the vague as contrasted with the definite (them guys is less meaningful than those three hoods who hang out at Sammy’s poolroom); and the abstract as contrasted with the concrete (to say that something is red tells me less than to state that it’s exactly the color of the local fire truck).”

On character:

“When a character excites and fascinates a reader, said reader wants to read about him … experience with him.”

On action:

“A story records change. It sets forth the details of how your focal character moves from one state of affairs and state of mind to another.”

The crux of Swain’s advice is motivation and feeling — characters must have motivation to keep them, and thus the story, moving forward, and the story must evoke feeling in the reader to keep them turning pages. Definitely something for us writers and editors to keep top-of-mind.

And, perhaps even more important, is that Swain tells us we should let go when we write, let go of rules and self-censorship.

“Hem a writer in with rules, and in spite of himself, he unconsciously weighs each new thought against the standard of the rule … To be a writer, a creative person, you must retain your ability to react uniquely.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Have you read Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer? What do you think?

Write On!


Patience, perseverance and a whole lotta reading

Pile of booksSaturday was the monthly meeting of the great Austin chapter of the SCBWI at the awesome independent bookstore BookPeople, and all who attended got a healthy dose of inspiration.

The speaker was author Jessica Lee Anderson, who taught about dealing with the ups and downs of publishing through songs — and yep, she even sang.

Jessica reinforced the idea I wrote about in my last post, that the writing is the best part of the journey, so stop worrying about publication. But how to do that? Well, with a little Patience (from Guns ‘n Roses), R.E.S.P.E.C.T. (from Aretha Franklin) for ourselves as writers and people, and the knowledge that I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor). (Jessica’s talk had a wonderful soundtrack!)

Jessica also reminded us that reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer, and she said she had set a goal for 2011 to read a book a week. A book a week! And she’s running ahead of that goal right now!

I was amazed. I can’t read that fast. (She did admit to me later that she listens to a lot of audio books in her car and has to drive a lot, so that’s one way you can fit them in.)

Although I won’t be matching Jessica’s pace any time soon, she did inspire me to push harder to get more books read. Spurred on, this weekend I picked up my book whenever I had a few spare minutes, instead of browsing the Web. I was determined to finish the novel I was reading and start another. I finished on Sunday afternoon and immediately went to my unread pile and picked up a new book. I’m already racing through that one — as often as I can at least. We’ll see if I can finish it in a week.

So, stop worrying, be patient, keep writing and make reading a priority.

Do you have a reading goal?

Write On!

The writer's journey is the best part

Peaceful Warrior movie posterMy husband and I watched the movie Peaceful Warrior last night — based on the book by Dan Millman, whose life is supposedly the basis for the book and movie — and I found myself nodding and smiling a lot. Not that I’m half as wise as the movie’s Nick Nolte character, but I understand the film’s main message, which is, the journey is the best part.

In the film, a college gymnast (Millman) is on track to get it all; he already gets the girls, but he’s aiming for Olympic gold too. A chance encounter with an odd older man (Nolte) makes Millman think he’s missing something and that he could be even greater. Along the way, he discovers that gold medals are not the most important things in life and that being the best you can be is really about letting go of your worries for the future and concentrating on the present.

It made me think of writing. I’m halfway through my third novel and, like many writers, I think ahead to the time that it will — hopefully — be published. The story is a bit experimental, a 10-year-old protagonist with some pretty heavy — adult — issues, and often my thoughts question whether a publisher will take on the book because of it. But it’s a story that I like, that I feel and want to write, and ultimately that’s what counts.

The journey we take when we’re writing our books is the best part. Although I’m not yet published as a novelist, I have been a journalist/editor for 19 years and have seen my name in print over and over again. It was thrilling the first few times, but then it’s over. What stays with me most from my career is the moments when I’ve written a particularly poignant lead and learned something really amazing during research for a story, like when I wrote about an art exhibit by Croatian children who used their painting as therapy. I wrote that story some, hmm, 13 years ago? And yet it’s one of the closest to my heart. And it’s not because of when I saw my name on top of it in the newspaper. It’s because of the journey I took for the article.

I imagine it’ll be the same when one of my novels is finally published. Sure, it’ll be thrilling for a while — a long while — but that will fade, as writer Anne Lamott describes in her great book Bird By Bird. The best part of my novel will be the time I spent writing it.

So, if you’re worrying about publication and looking ahead to seeing your words in print, stop. Don’t dwell on that, because if you do, you’ll miss the best part of your work — right now, when you’re writing.

Write On!

Going digital

KindleHappy New Year!

It’s a new year, and, now that I’m finally starting to settle down after my monster move, I’m back on Day By Day Writer. I’m excited and pledge that I’ll be with you at least three times a week.

So, with the new year comes good news and bad in the publishing industry: Borders is still in financial trouble and delaying payments to vendors in a short-term effort to fix things. But on the upside, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble reported strong sales of their ebook readers, the Kindle and Nook, respectively. Amazon says 2010 Kindle sales were at more than 8 million units, with B&N claiming “millions” of Nooks were sold.

I can attest to this, as I had a hard time finding one this Christmas.

Although a paper-book lover, I definitely see the benefits of going digital. Aside from the obvious benefit to trees, e-readers are great for avid readers who travel a lot. My father is one of those. He makes long trips a few times a year, and on those trips, he carries a good four or five, maybe more books. And I’m not talking about little thin books. When he left my house a couple days ago after the Christmas and New Year holidays, he left with me the James Bond Union Trilogy — a three-book pack — because it couldn’t fit in his suitcase. He had another three books already in there!

For people like my dad, an e-reader, at a little more than 8 pounds for the Kindle, is a great idea. And although we had had conversations about how we both preferred the feel of paper, I took a leap and bought an e-reader for my dad for Christmas. After much research, I chose the Kindle, but both Best Buy and Target — all my local stores — were completely sold out of the devices when I was shopping, proving their popularity. Amazon happily sent one my way, however, and my dad was surprised and pleased. A gadget lover, he quickly loaded it up with his favorite books, and I caught him reading his Kindle on the couch a few times before he left. Next time he flies across the world, his suitcase will be a lot lighter, but he’ll be able to carry with him many, many more books to enjoy.

The popularity of e-readers is great news for publishers and us writers. Book sales have been waning the last few years. But, if people like their e-readers, they’ll want books to read on them.

And good books are good stories no matter whether they’re printed on paper or e-ink.

So, this year, keep up the writing. E-reader lovers need more stories.

Write On!

Interview: Kate Messner on writing and researchingW

Kate Messner headshotToday, I’ve got a great guest post on writing and researching from Kate Messner, author of Sugar & Ice, a Junior Library Guild Selection, Best Book for December and on the Winder 2010-2011 Kids IndieNext List.

Here’s the synopsis of Kate’s book:

For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family’s maple farm. But all that changes when Claire is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity-a scholarship to train with the elite skaters in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire soon realizes that her sweet dream-come-true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want her to fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow?

Sounds fun.

Now, here’s Kate’s advice on writing and researching:

It’s all in the details…

Sugar & Ice book coverWhen I was writing Sugar & Ice, I did a lot of the research you might expect – reading books about the different spins and jumps in figure skating, studying skater biographies and interviewing coaches and competitive skaters about what it’s like. But there are some things you just can’t get from a book or an interview.

How does a skater interact with a coach who’s really pushing him or her?  What kinds of things does a coach say to encourage a skater who’s struggling?  To push a skater who’s not working as hard as he or she needs to be?

To answer those questions, I spent several afternoons at the skating rink. Former Olympian and current skating coach Gilberto Viadana allowed me to attend several of his sessions with skaters, so I bundled up and listened in as they worked on everything from sit spins to salchows.

“The arms! The arms!” Gilberto would shout.  And I would scribble down his words in my notebook.  More than that, though, I watched him watching his skaters. I paid attention to the way he nodded, just a little, when they responded to his coaching, to the way a skater stood when he or she was listening to advice, to the body language of a coaching session.

When you read the scenes in Sugar & Ice that involve Claire’s coach, Andrei Groshev, Groshev’s personality is all his own. But some of his words, his gestures and his coaching strategies are borrowed from Coach Viadana.

Authors rely on experts not only to review manuscripts and answer questions, but also to open up their worlds for that inside experience, and I’m so very thankful for this. The tiniest details – the things that could never come just from my imagination – are what make a scene feel rich and real.

Want a personalized, signed copy of Sugar & Ice?

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a Sugar & Ice launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, Dec. 11, so please consider this your invitation if you live in the area! If you can’t make it but would still like a signed, personalized copy, just give the bookstore a call at 518.523.2950 by Dec. 10. They’ll take your order, have Kate sign your book after the event, and ship it out to you in plenty of time for the holidays.

Some great inspirational links

Between my DVD and Blu-ray website,; my books; and moving, I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above water. So, a couple articles I read today as I was doing research really caught my eye. They’re geared toward bloggers and those trying to make money online, but their message works equally well for writers trying to get their work published and pushing through the self-doubts.

The first is How To Remain Productive When You Feel Like Giving Up. Self-doubt is a normal thing that every writer has to battle, even if they’re published but especially when they’re just starting out. It’s hard to sit at that computer and type and type without knowing if your work will have any success at all. The majority of people who start writing a book never finish it, and those who do often don’t do the work necessary to get it in a good enough shape for publication. And then there’s the querying agents process… Rejection is part of a writer’s life, and it can be hard to keep going, but this article has some great tips.

The second article, from the same site, is titled: If You Want Success Today, Let Yesterday Go and Stop Seeking Tomorrow. The article is long — and I must admit, I skimmed it — but the title itself is what I thought was great advice. I tend to look back and look forward way too much for my own good, but it does nothing except build my anxiety. And the truth is, I can’t do anything about yesterday or tomorrow. All I can work on is right now. And in this moment, I can work on one thing. So I need to choose that thing, then work on it to the best of my ability, not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow or what I missed yesterday. If I do my best right now, if I succeed today, then tomorrow will be sorted out by itself.

The third inspirational blog post I found today is for writers. Author Bobbi Miller has a great interview with fellow author Kathi Appelt. Kathi offers up a bunch of good stuff (her answer about the “American fantasy” genre is very interesting), but the most inspirational part is at the bottom when she talks about advice she received from M.T. Anderson, who told her “write what you think you can’t.” To Kathi, that meant she had permission to fail, and that opened her up to try new things. Good advice for all of us.

Write On!

Kurt Vonnegut's rejections

The New York Times reported on a new Kurt Vonnegut library that’s going to open in Indianapolis in the fall, and my favorite part of the article is a quote from his oldest daughter, Edie Vonnegut, who said, “We have boxes of rejection letters, letters saying, ‘You have no talent and we suggest you give up writing.'”

Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t revel in the rejections great writers have suffered through. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. But, knowing that if a writer as a great as Vonnegut can get rejections like that, rise above them and continue to pursue writing — and be successful at it — that’s inspirational.

Rejections are difficult to deal with, but it’s part of the business, and not personal — even though it feels personal, it’s not.

Rejections are also nothing that should stop us from writing and pursuing publication. A rejection is simply one person saying no; there will be others, but there also will be plenty of people who will say yes.

Like Edie says in the article: “He did not have an easy time of it, and I think anyone who wants to be a writer, it will be important for them to see how tough it was for him.”

It Vonnegut could do it, we can do it. Thank you, Kurt.

Write On!

The power of a fart

No writing update because … I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t been writing. My move has been taking it out of me. But my need to write has been tugging at me in the last week more than any other time this past month or so, and my novel’s character keeps knocking on my brain, so starting … tomorrow? … I’m going to start writing again.

But this post isn’t about my lack of keyboard time. And, it’s not actually about farting, either; well, not really.

The power of a fart is how it can, apparently, help middle-grade-age boys get interested in reading.

A story in yesterday’s Washington Post talks about how Ray Sabini, a fourth-grade teacher, wrote a book about farts to try to get boys to read. The Washington Post article says that boys are still trailing girls in reading and that the gap is widening. Sabini went the fart route to get boys into reading, and his book Sweet Farts tells the story of a 9-year-old boy whose science fair invention turns fart smells into whatever you’d like them to be, including summer rose, cotton candy, etc. Sabini self-published the novel under the name Raymond Bean, and it was at No. 3 on Amazon’s children’s humor book list in October thanks to mostly word of mouth. Sabini is publishing a sequel, Sweet Farts: Rippin’ It Old School, next month.

I haven’t read Sabini’s book, but it sounds like a great, fun idea. And that’s what I think books should be — fun.

Books tell stories, and we stories to be entertained. Sure, for some of us, that entertainment might be scary, or sad, or thought-provoking, but for middle-grade-age boys, it’s farts … or whatever else will keep their attention away from videogames for a few minutes.

So, whatever you’re writing…

1. know your audience – know what they’re interested in and write about that, even if it is bodily functions.

2. make it fun – funny, deliciously devilish, nice and spooky, tear-jerking sad, whatever emotion the story stirs, make it stir it well.

What are you writing?

Write On!