Category Archives: Giving Yourself a Break

Couch Potato Time For Health and Profit

Finishing a novel is a HUGE achievement (and I’m not just talking about word count). It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your fiftieth, it’s still a huge weight off your shoulders knowing that the first draft is done. Well, at least it is until you remember that now you have to do revisions and edits.

In my experience, starting all that tough, nit-picky work so soon after finishing the draft isn’t good for you. If I dive back in so soon I get sick of my own work, and sometimes even resent it for depriving me of the time to watch the backlog of shows on my DVR or the cool new thing on Netflix. The last thing I want to happen, is for me to hate my own work for something so petty — especially after all the hard work I put into it. That’s why I treat myself to two things after the completion of the first draft. The first is a tangible treat that somehow ties in to something I love about that particular story. Sometimes it’s a piece of inexpensive jewelry, and sometimes it’s a piece of clothing or art. What’s the second thing?

Nothing.

That’s right. Nothing.

After finishing the first draft I give myself permission to not write or do any other work on that draft for one week. During that week I can veg on the couch and watch as many shows and movies as I want. I can also read as many books in my bedside stack as I want. The obvious reason for this is that I can’t resent my work for keeping me from watching the new season of Forged in Fire if I’ve already watched it. I can’t be tempted by the new lovely in my reading stack if I’ve already read it. Plus the growing backlog of episodes, and the growing stack of awesome books, become the carrots that are dangled before me while I’m working on that initial draft.

The less obvious reason is that it allows the creative side of my brain to rest and renew while the more studious side of my brain can pick apart the plots of the shows and books I’m partaking of. It’s hard, especially after taking one of Dave Wolverton’s writing courses, to turn my brain completely off when taking in a story. It doesn’t matter if the medium is visual, audio, or printed. I can’t stop myself from poking a metaphorical finger at other people’s plot holes, or admiring some great pacing and then reviewing that section over and over to figure out exactly how they did it. So my vacation suddenly becomes an educational experience that can improve my own writing. Yay!

Okay. I realize that it probably looks like a cheat to be studying someone else’s writing when I’m taking a break from writing. Well, it’s not. The break is from my own writing. Besides, heaven forbid I resent my vacation from writing for keeping me from doing the writerly things that I love. If the studious side of my writer brain is busy looking for tropes and Chekov’s arsenal, the rest of me can enjoy the break without conflict.

I also find that one week is the perfect length of time. I can make a noticeable dent in the backlog of stories to partake of, but it’s not so long a break that my readers start to wonder if I’ll ever truly finish my next book.

It can be a tricky balance to maintain — sacrificing for your work without hating the necessity of making sacrifices — but it can be maintained. For me this is one of the small ways I can maintain that balance while preventing burn out. In the spirit of Your Miles May Vary, a shorter or longer interval may work better for you. Instead of TV it may be gaming that you need the break for. I know authors who write short stories between drafting and editing as their break/treat. Whatever works best for you. Burn out and self-resentment are terrible things that have destroyed too many writing careers. It’s important to know what treat you respond best to and to use that to maintain a healthy balance that will keep you engaged and interested in the work now and in the years to come.

To Quit or Not to Quit?

That wraps it up for us this month, and what a month it was! We dove into making goals, how to make better goals, when to amend your goals, and when to quit your goals. We hope our insights were helpful to you, and that you carry some of our hard-earned wisdom with you into your future work.

In case you missed a post this month, here they are:

The Stories that Just Don’t Sell by Mary Pletsch

We Always Need a Goal by Ace Jordan

Quitting by Nicholas Ruva

New Goal: Stop Making Goals by Kristin Luna (that’s me!)

A Gamer’s Guide to Quitting by Heidi Wilde

How Goals Can Destroy Your Writing Career by Gregory Little

Finish What You Start, or Not by Kevin Ikenberry

A Faster Book, or A Better Book? by Frank Morin

Quitting with Feeling by David Heyman

In Favor of Failure by Colton Hehr

The Goal Post by Sean Golden

Obstacles May Be Closer Than They Appear by Kim May

To Goal or Not to Goal, That Is The Question by Jo Schneider

Made to Be Broken by Hamilton Perez

2018 – Hello, Universe Calling, Is Scott There? by Scott Eder

When Chronic Illness Sabotages Goals by Ace Jordan

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals by Shannon Fox

Resources on Goal Setting and Quitting Goals by Kristin Luna

 

What were some of your favorite posts this month? Did we leave anything out? Comment and let us know!

Setting Realistic, S.M.A.R.T. Goals – A Guest Post by Shannon Fox

I still remember that day in middle school when our teacher showed up with a pile of school-issued planners for each of us to use keep track of our homework and learn good study habits. I excitedly flipped through mine, mentally vowing to use it religiously and fill it up with neatly written, color-coded tasks. The fact that I have terrible handwriting was a non-issue. With this planner in my hands, I was about to morph into one of those uber-successful adults with letter-perfect handwriting.

Imagine my surprise when I looked up and saw my classmates were less than enthused by our gift from the school. They looked even more dismayed to learn that we would actually be required to use this thing and we would need to show it to our teacher weekly. I silently cheered as I thought of all the free points I was going to get towards my grade.

Though the color-coding and perfect handwriting aspects never materialized, I did use my planner religiously. I scooped up all my free points week after week and began my love affair with planners, to-do lists, and scheduling out my days by the hour. Over the years my physical planner has largely been replaced by a digital calendar, a to-do list on my phone, and an online project management tool (I use, love, and recommend Trello). But my desire to track and plan my life has not waned.

I would estimate I meet 85% of my goals or more. If I don’t meet a goal, it’s usually because of one of two reasons. It could be because I’m busy meeting another, more important goal. Or it could be because my goal is too ambitious and almost impossible to meet.

Take this most recent goal I set for myself as an example. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I seriously thought this was at all possible. But after I finished writing the latest draft of my novel in November, I (super) optimistically thought to myself, I can have this edited and revised by February. Two months, that’s no sweat. Easy peasy.

I promise I was of sound mind and entirely sober when I came up with this goal for myself. I’m also not naïve, I’ve written and edited books before. But somehow I really believed this was doable.

You’re probably wondering how that goal is working out for me. Well…let’s put it this way, I’ve edited twelve chapters out of eighty-four total. At the time of this writing, I have about two and half weeks to finish the other seventy-two chapters.

Obviously, I’m not going to be making this. Not even close.

By all accounts, goal setting is a good behavior and is something we should all practice. So, where did I go wrong?

If you’ve worked in an office setting or spent any time reading about productivity and time management, you’ve probably encountered S.M.A.R.T. goals before. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is a goal that is:

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Time-Bound

Most experts advocate for the use of S.M.A.R.T. goals or something similar because they help people turn nebulous ideas into results. Here’s how my editing goal looks when run through the S.M.A.R.T. framework:

Specific: I will finish editing my book.

Measurable: I will measure my goal by how many chapters I’ve finished editing.

Achievable: I will read through each chapter to make sure it is fulfilling its role of moving the story along, is interesting, well-written, free of grammar mistakes, free of plot holes and plot inconsistencies, and is as polished as I can make it. I will then finish the chapter by searching in the text for each of the items on my list of words I overuse/should avoid and make corrections as needed.

Relevant: Finishing editing my book will move me to the next stop along my road to publication.

Time-Bound: I will complete this by the beginning of February (about two months time).

So, I did have a S.M.A.R.T. goal. All the parts were there. But what I was lacking was a realistic goal.

Here’s the thing about me: although I know time and energy are both finite resources, I tend to overlook that fact when I’m goal setting. Because it’s really just inconvenient and it gets in the way of my super optimistic goals.

I also forgot to account for the fact that along with becoming an (I hope) better writer over the last year and a half, I also became an (I hope) better and more critical editor. So with both these overlooked facts in mind, I set the super unrealistic goal of editing an entire book in two months.

Clearly, it’s not enough to set goals for yourself. It’s not enough to set S.M.A.R.T. goals for yourself either. You have to set goals that are reasonable in order to have a chance at success.

Some people beat themselves up for not meeting the personal goals they’ve set (and let’s face it, unless you’re lucky enough to be a full-time writer, all your writing goals are personal goals). It’s okay to be disappointed in yourself once in awhile. We’re fallible and we make mistakes. We have to constantly push ourselves to be better. But your disappointment in yourself has to be warranted. If you couldn’t meet an unrealistic goal, there’s no reason to be disappointed in yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you – it’s the goal that was wrong.

I’m not at all disappointed in myself. Okay, maybe just a little – but only because I was nuts to think this goal was viable in the first place.

But I’m not at all disappointed that I’m still editing my book and nowhere near done. I know I’m doing my best to keep up with everything in my life and whenever I do have time to sit down and work on my book, I really feel it is getting better. And that’s all that matters.

 

About Shannon Fox:

I have a B.A. in Literature-Writing from UC-San Diego. I write novels and short stories, particularly young adult, contemporary, historical, and science fiction. I maintain my own blog of book reviews and writing advice at IsleofBooks.com. I am a regular blogger for Equine Journal and Coastal Premier Properties. I have authored over 200 articles and blogs for online and print publication. I was also a research assistant to the authors for the published novels Teen 2.0 and Against Their Will. In addition to writing, my professional background is in marketing and advertising. I run a free marketing resource for entrepreneurs and small business owners at www.MinMarketing.com.

Made to Be Broken – A Guest Post by Hamilton Perez

A guest post by Hamilton Perez.

I was just starting out in college when I first decided to be a writer, and I set for myself the goal of publishing my first novel before I graduated. Seemed reasonable, I thought. It’s an uncertain field, after all, I should try to break in as soon as possible so I don’t just sit on my degree afterward. Now, several years after graduating, I still haven’t finished that first novel, let alone published one.

To be a writer is to be a dreamer. But that’s only half of it. To be a writer is to be disappointed. It’s easy, in the beginning to be blinded by imagination, ambition, by the colorful worlds sprouting and blooming inside your head. You can do this, you think. It’s all possible.

And therein lays the unsolicited rub.

Being a writer, or any artist really, is essentially an act of faith. It’s surrendering any sense of control in your personal (read: financial) destiny in pursuit of a creative field that’s harder to crack than a macadamia nut.

That’s why goals are such alluring creatures to an artist. They allow us to believe (for however brief a time) that we have some control over our pitiful fates. They’re lies we tell ourselves to get us moving when the doubt creeps in. But as with art, goals are often born from an excess of ambition. You learn that quickly as you fail to write your thousand words a day, then your five hundred words, then one hundred, until that day comes when you don’t write at all and spend three hours on the couch, watching The Flash with your dog who’s clearly disappointed in you.

Once you fail at your goals, you realize that the same imagination that fuels stories also fuels your hope of what you can accomplish in the one or two hour window you’ve set aside between work, relationships, and nap time. Little did you know when you set those goals that you were setting yourself up for failure.

O cruel, twisty irony!

It’s easy at this point to be discouraged. Indeed, that part’s encouraged. Wallow, dammit. You’re an artist. But once you’ve finished your wallowing, take a look at your work. You might have failed to meet a daily word count, but perhaps you reached half of it. Maybe you found a new plot device or story title. There’s always a silver lining hidden amid the dross. You’ve made something, which is the first step away from making nothing.

Before you can be a successful writer, you have to be a bad one. Before you can set reasonable goals, you have to chase the crazy ones. You have to know what your limits are, what you can handle and what you can’t. The good news: you’re doing it! The bad: you have to fail, you are going to fail.

Embrace that failure.

But setting goals and working towards them isn’t enough. You have to recognize when those goals aren’t working and are actually holding you back. Writing 250 words a day isn’t going to make you a better writer if you’re just typing “Why am I doing this?” fifty times. When that failure comes, you need to either change the goal or abandon it. It’s better to only write a promising first chapter during National Novel Writing Month than to write a terrible novel that had some potential in chapter one.

In 2016, I tried the popular NaNoWriMo for the first time. I planned out the story a month ahead. I did my research beforehand. I calculated how much I needed to write in a day and when I could afford to take a day off. And the first week I was on a roll, churning out one to two thousand words a day. But in the second week, I started to slip. I wrote less and I was less happy with what I wrote. The dream of having a completed novel to work with and develop in December was slipping away. I had a choice: I could either slog through and try and reach the final word count, or readjust my goals and develop the parts of the novel I liked to see where the story actually wanted to go.

The exciting result: I still haven’t finished that novel… But I absolutely love the three chapters I’ve got so far. Most of what I’d written after that point has been scrapped or reworked, and the novel is so much better for it. But because of the work I did during NaNoWrMo, even though I technically failed at the goal, I now know where I want the story to go.

Like rules, creative goals are made to be broken. They aren’t for life planning. They’re for now. For getting you moving, getting you writing. Whether you meet them isn’t really the point. The point is you keep going. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quick. You keep going. You write and you create.

So set your goals. Set reasonable ones. Set ambitious ones. Just set some goals, something—anything—for you to shoot for. Then abandon them when they stop working for you. Wallow a bit. Clear your head. Set some new goals, and write.

Rinse, repeat.

 

About Hamilton Perez

Hamilton Perez is a writer and freelance editor living in Sacramento, California. When not writing, he can be found rolling 20-sided dice or chasing squirrels with the dog. His stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Metaphorosis, and Syntax & Salt. You can follow him on Twitter @TheWritingHam.