Your Top 2-3 Writing Goals For The Year

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, this is the perfect time to start off with a clean slate (or as much of one as you can). ūüôā

I was thinking this morning that it’s a good time to think about the main things we want to accomplish this year. ¬†I originally going to suggest making five goals, but then I thought 2-3 is a lot more doable than five. ¬† By keeping this short and simple, I’m hoping we’ll see success with them.

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What Should The Goals Deal With?

These should be goals related directly to writing. ¬†Yes, I know there are health goals and other non-writing related goals this time of year, but we’re not going to go into that.¬†This is a blog dedicated to the writing business, and that being the case, we’ll focus on writing related goals.

It can be books you want to get done, an LLC you want to set up, a course you want to take to become a better writer or market your books, a new website design, a strategy to get a blog going, a new marketing idea… ¬†As long as it relates to the world of writing, it fits.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at what we most want to get done. ¬† I suggest writing these down or recording them if you use dictation software. ¬†You don’t have to do this in one sitting. ¬†I think taking a day or two to mull this over is a good idea. ¬†Often, something will come to mind when you’re doing a chore or taking a shower. ¬†(Funny how that works, isn’t it?) ¬†So as you come up with these goals, mark¬†them down. ¬†The list can be as long as you want in this stage since all you’re doing right now is brainstorming.

Narrow It Down to 2-3 Main Things

Next, set the list aside for a week.  This should help your subconscious mind work through everything you put on it.   Then take the list out and mark the top 2-3 things you want to do.  These are the high priority items.  If you get nothing else done this year, those 2-3 things should be accomplished by the end of the year.

1. Keep it simple.

I advise keeping these things simple enough so you don’t get overwhelmed later in the year when you’re working on them. ¬†So instead of making a goal ¬†something like, “Write a four-book series,” have the goal be, “Write Book 1.” That gives you one goal that is a lot more doable.

You know the expression that says, “You can’t see the forest through the trees?” ¬†Guess what? ¬†You can’t have a forest unless you have trees to begin with. ¬† The purpose of this exercise is to set up strong trees that will make for a healthy forest in the long run. ¬†If you try to do too much, then your trees will be weak. ¬†Do what you can handle with everything else you have going on in your life.

2. Make your goal something you can control.

Having a goal like, “I’m going to make more money this year,” isn’t something you can control. ¬†As much as I would love it if we could control this part of the business, it’s not possible. ¬†All we can do is take steps toward making more money. ¬†So instead of, “I’m going to increase my income,”¬†try something like, “I’m going to create a group on Facebook where I can engage with my readers” or “I’m going to create an email list” or “I’m going to make a blog post twice a month”. ¬†Something like that is directly under your control, and it’s a way to promote your work.

(Below I went off tangent.  Feel free to skip.)

I have been criticized for speaking out on losing income in the past, but I write posts on this blog because I believe in being¬†straightforward and honest about things. ¬†If I don’t do that, then I’m only wasting my time and yours. ¬†I am not going to promise anyone that if they plug in a certain formula or do something specific, they’ll magically find their income go up. ¬†I can share things that have helped me earn more money, but that’s all I can do. ¬†And just because that one thing (such as pre-orders) helped me earn more money, it doesn’t mean I made more money than I did the year before. ¬†What it did was help take some of the buffer off the losses I was experiencing.

Personally, I’m tired of hearing how we are supposed to expect income to go up all the time. ¬†The truth is, it doesn’t always work that way. ¬†You can do everything right and still not have more money coming in. ¬†I have had private conversations with other authors who make a living with their writing. ¬†Last year, some of them (including me) lost income. ¬†Some were losing income in 2015, too. ¬†This is despite doing all the things marketing experts tell us to do and selling in a popular genre. ¬†So if you find that you’re not able to make the income you want even though you’re following all the advice out there, I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing you are not alone. ¬†(Sometimes the worst feeling in the world is thinking you’re the only person this is happening to. ¬†And it certainly doesn’t help when people criticize you for being honest.)

(Now back to the topic.)

If You Finish The Goals Ahead Of Schedule, Make More

Congratulations if you get things done before you think you will! ¬†That’s wonderful. ¬†It’s better if you end up having to add more goals than to not complete the ones you set out to do.

What Are Your Goals?

I’d love to hear what you guys are planning to do this year, so please share!

Categories: Uncategorized

Writing Time: Selfish, Selfless, or Saving Others?

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have a hard time with writing time = being selfish even though intellectually I keep telling myself that writing time = self-care time. Writing makes me happy!

A Writer's Path

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by Christopher Slater

I will start out by saying that this is a perfect example of what is meant by the phrase, ‚ÄúDoctor, heal thyself!‚ÄĚ I am the absolute worst at not following this advice. Of course, that is probably why I have joked with my students that my name should be a verb meaning ‚Äúto screw up badly.‚ÄĚ So if you ever heard me say ‚ÄúI Slatered myself by not listening to my own advice,‚ÄĚ then you can understand what I mean.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Backstory isn’t Character

(IMPORTANT NOTE: I will be differentiating character, as in a person, and character, as in aspects of a person, by capitalizing the former and leaving the latter lowercase. So from here on out in this post, Character refers to people, and character refers to qualities of a Character.)

Happy New Year, everyone! I thought I’d start off the New Year with an informative post about something I see a bit too much in fiction: writers mistaking a backstory for character.

In particular, I saw this quite a bit in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which I saw in theaters, and Star Trek Beyond, which I saw on DVD recently (and since not everyone has seen those movies yet but might want to, I’ll keep this spoiler free). Both movies introduce new Characters with really sad backstories: Jyn Urso in Rogue One and Jaylah in Star Trek Beyond. However, these Characters’¬†films don’t spend a lot of time establishing their characters beyond being exceptionally good warriors and survivors. The most we learn about them is their backstories.

Now, a backstory is important. It tells us where a Character comes from, and can imform certain aspects of their character. However, backstory isn’t the same thing as character. A Character’s character is personality and how Characters react to situations.It’s their interests, their pet peeves, what they look for in friends or romantic partners, and how they change over the course of a story. That’s what authors and critics talk about when they speak of character development and character arcs and character in general.

For example, in one of my novels-in-progress, Laura Horn, the titular character also has a dark backstory. A very traumatic event occurred in her life when she was a kid, and that informs how she interacts with the world around her quite a bit. However, that’s not all there is to her. Laura likes animated movies and musicals, and uses them to de-stress. And even before the dark incident in her life, she was introverted and shy. She didn’t like to put herself out there, and preferred quiet to excitement. And, when it comes to the people around her, once they show her how much they care for her and how kind they are, she will become fiercely loyal and go to great lengths to protect them. That’s character in a Character.

An even better example is the titular character of the TV series Chuck, and its titular character Chuck Bartowski. From pretty early on in the series, we’re told Chuck’s backstory (and this series ended five years ago, so I will go into details). His parents weren’t always around in his life, so he was raised mostly by his older sister. He went to Stanford but his best friend betrayed him, framed him for cheating, and slept with his girlfriend. He was expelled, and moved home, where he started working at a Best Buy parody. But that is not Chuck’s character:

Chuck is a smart guy. He’s an accomplished engineer and programmer, and his smarts often help him in his crazy, espionage-filled life. Chuck enjoys science fiction and other nerdy interests, and will go on for hours with his best friend Morgan. He’s kind and caring, and tries to be optimistic despite how awful life can be sometimes to him, though occasionally he is seized by despair when things go terribly wrong. And although he hates guns and violence, he will go to whatever length necessary to protect his friends and family from trouble. And he tries to be the straight guy in a world where weird stuff is treated normal in his daily life (if you know the show and where Chuck works, you know what I’m talking about). That is Chuck’s character.

And when you have good character, you have a good Character. Chuck is still a much-beloved Character because people identify with him. Even though fans may not share his backstory (I certainly haven’t been expelled because of a friend’s betrayal or had to deal with absent parents), they love that a nerdy guy who tries to be nice to even nasty people and who enjoys all the nerdy things they love is the hero of a TV series, because that’s someone like them.

So how do you know if a Character has a character? Here’s an exercise I came up with before the New Year: pretend the Character is question (I’ll make one up for the sake of the exercise) is someone you know in your daily life, and you meet someone whom you would like to set up with the Character on a blind date. Now, I wouldn’t tell this girl my Character’s backstory, because it would sound something like this:

“Edward was orphaned at a young age. He was nearly killed by soldiers working for a rogue element of the Armed Forces, but the Queen of Hell saved his life and gave him powers because she felt that doing so would work into her plans. He uses his powers to go after the secret group, as well as anyone, human or otherwise, who stands in his way or tries to hurt those close to him.”

If I told someone that, they’d either think I was kidding or insane, or they would run screaming to the nearest convent in the hopes that a nun’s habit would protect them from evil. However, if I were to describe my Character’s character, I’d probably get a much better reception:

“Edward’s a smart dude. He’s always had the best scores in school, he’s been captain of the chess team for three years running. Also pretty rational, proved that our high school wasn’t ¬†haunted when everyone else thought it was. He’s also very loyal and caring. He’s practically raised his sister since they were kids, and I’ve never seen him raise his voice or break a promise. And he tells pretty funny jokes, lots of situational humor. He’s very political, but if you tell him you don’t want to discuss spending on defense or reelection rates in Congress, and he’ll keep quiet.”

Now there’s a Character with character, someone you’d like to date. And this exercise works in all sorts of situations. You can even use it to come up with character traits for your Character and work them into the story.

Backstory is important. No doubt about it. But it’s not everything to a Character. Their character is. Because without it, there’s nothing to identify with, and it makes it harder for readers to continue reading your story. And nobody wants that.

Categories: Characters & Viewpoints, General Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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