Friday, December 30, 2011

Honest Goals for the New Year

Writing goals, writing goals, writing goals. That would be an easy one to duck. You know, just say whatever I figure people expect me to say. Skate right over the surface of it. Except for one thing. I was never very good at that. And I’m getting worse at it all the time.

So, here comes an honest post.

I don’t have much in the way of New Year’s goals for my writing. Because I really don’t have a writing problem. I have a selling problem.

I’m churning out well over a novel a year, plus some other miscellaneous projects. I’m far ahead of schedule with my UK publisher. Whether or not I still have a US publisher remains to be seen. For a while there I was writing one adult novel for the UK market and one YA novel for over here—every year. And I managed. I love to write, and my natural speed is pretty high. I don’t know why, but it is. It just always was. I don’t take credit for it, any more than I take credit for the fact that my eyes are…whatever the hell color they are. Gray or green depending on my shirt and the lighting. I know, I’m getting off track.

My problem is not how to get more words. My problem is how to get more readers.

It’s possible that I have this problem because people assume that I don’t. You know, I’ve been around this business a while. And once you get adapted for film, all your problems are over for the rest of your life, of course. Hey, I thought so, too, once upon a time. I’m not making fun of it. But I have all these people who are very aware of me as an author, and figure I’m having a great professional life, and enjoying great success. And I think for the most part they don’t tend to buy my books because they figure they don’t need to. That I don’t need them to. But I sort of…do. But you don’t say that to people, because…well, because you just don’t. (And because too many other people just do anyway. Even though you just don’t.)

So the truth is, I’m a bit perplexed as to how I’ll go about surmounting this goal, to earn more readers and sell more copies of the books. Sure, I know all about social networking and blog tours and keeping a website. I’m doing all the things they say you’re supposed to do. I’m not sure what the missing piece is, and how much of it is untrackable good fortune, or circumstances outside of our control.

I know one missing piece, but I’m not willing to change it. I could write novels that are more user-friendly. Less challenging. But that’s off the table.

So, being more than caught up on my writing, my job for next year seems to involve how to make more people aware of what I do. Only a fairly small portion of readers want what I’m offering (I think that’s true of most writers—not everything is for everybody) but if I can reach a new cross-section, maybe I can enjoy another small percentage. My goal as a writer has always been just to make enough money to keep writing. Nothing fancier than that. I’m on a real knife edge in that regard going into 2012, but I’m still going.

Now, how to tell people that I’m not fine just as it stands, and I really do need the help, the word of mouth, whatever they care to offer, if they care to.

Well…I guess I just did.

Told you this would be an honest post. It’s getting to the point where that’s the only kind of post I know how to write anymore. Which is okay. With me, anyway. Hope it’s okay with you, too.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2012: whether we like it or not (Brian Katcher)

2011 was both an excellent and a terrible year for my writing career. Excellent, in that Almost Perfect won the coveted Stonewall Book Award and Playing With Matches was also honored with the North Carolina Young Adult Book Award.

Unfortunately, there was also a glaring setback. My third book, Mysterious Ways, was set to be published this summer. I'd been paid, we'd discussed cover art and everything. And then, without warning or explanation, my contract was terminated. My wonderful agent tells me not to worry, she'll find it a new home. Except then she gets laid off. And while she's now working in the publishing industry again, I am without representation, and with an unpublished manuscript.

But I am an adult. I simply took a deep breath, counted to twenty, and let loose a stream of profanity that would make a sailor blush. No word yet on how that affected my real job as an elementary school librarian.

Now I could console myself with such lesser things as my good health, my loving wife, and wonderful daughter. But my thoughts kept returning to one theme:


Did I say revenge? Sorry, I meant perseverance. So what if I'd bragged about this third book to all my friends? So what if I'd been telling reporters about it for months? So what if I'd been yakking about it on facebook?

No, I'm not giving up on you, Mysterious Ways. As our webmistress, Holly Schindler told me, now I can make the book my own again. Stop thinking about impressing an editor and go back to the start. Remember why I wanted to tell the story of a lonely girl and her friend who secretly manipulates the news for his own personal gain.

And now I have a chance to rewrite my other unloved child, Everyone Dies at the End: A Romantic Comedy. We all love a good teen romance, and we all love a good Lovecraftian tale of horrors that dare not show their 'faces' to the world. Well now you can have both!

I'm so damn excited. I can't stop smiling.

Look out world! In 2012, I'm going to whip these babies into shape! Maybe even write another one. By 2013 you're going to see another book out there by Edmund Dantes...sorry, Brian Katcher! All I have to do is stagger drunkenly in front of some publisher's car.

'So much pain...but, um, I'm sure you don't want to see the police involved. I just happen to have a--cough, cough--manuscript here...'

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing goal for 2012: sanity

I went through a huge change in my writing life this year, imho third only to finishing a novel and selling a novel. After 21 years of writing novels and 6 years of getting paid for them, I finally quit my job as a copy editor and became a full-time writer.

There were a couple of reasons for this. One was that my new agent sold five books for me this year, compared with the seven sales agents had made for me over the last five years. I am still not a gazillionaire, but I'm making enough to constitute a full-time salary without supplementing my author money with copy editor money.

But I quit before we'd sold the last two books this year. It was book number three, The One That I Want, that pushed me over the edge. And it really wasn't a money issue but a time issue. If I agreed to write that book--very quickly, because it's out now!--there was no way I could have corralled my son while he was out of school all summer long AND continued to copy edit articles about nasal polyps.

I've joked a lot about the nasal polyps job, but the truth is, not all the articles I copy edited were about nasal polyps, and I absolutely loved being a medical copy editor. I didn't give up that job lightly. But my bosses did have a tendency to throw five days of work at me with no advance notice and ask for it in three days. Hey, a lot like revisions and copy edits for novels! I was able to handle one job like this for years. The schedule was easier for me to juggle back when I had only one novel out per year and most of my writing deadlines were self-imposed. But two jobs like this didn't work for me anymore. One of them had to go. You know which one.

This went down in April. So for the first third of the year, I was still copy editing a lot of nasal polyps. Despite this, I managed two write two and a half novels this year and go through the revision process on three. I've also written proposals, promoted my books, all that stuff that goes along with writing. Yet I feel like I haven't gotten anything done at all, like I have been very unfocused and airheaded, spinning my wheels. Granted, for years I mothered a toddler with my husband mostly gone to his third-shift job or sleeping during the day, I copy edited articles about nasal polyps, and I wrote novels whenever I could grab a minute. Great swaths of my first published novel, Major Crush, were written while I was on the elliptical machine at the YMCA. It was those levels of drive and panic that I was trying to dial down when I went from two jobs to one this year. It didn't happen.

Therefore, my writing goal in 2012 is to start feeling like writing is a job that I can go to each day, complete, and leave. I will then walk out of my office and do something else. I will get so much done in my designated writing time that I will not be revising a novel on Christmas day in 2012 like I did in 2011. (It's Such a Rush, it's coming out this July, and I will be able to show you the beautiful cover soon! I am so happy with it and I hope you enjoy it too, but I really could have done without it on Christmas.)

That's the goal, anyway. But after working as a full-time writer for eight months, I'm beginning to suspect that feeling insane and unfocused and airheaded may not be the product of my hectic schedule. I may actually be insane and unfocused and airheaded, and that's part of what makes my novels what they are.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

When I saw that this month's blog question was "What are your 2012 writing goals" I felt bad about myself. Because I thought about my 2011 goal. And my 2010 goal. And I didn't meet either of them!

Because my goal in 2010 was to finish writing the book I'd started. And when I didn't, I made that 2011's goal. And now, as I'm looking at a mere four days left in December, I'm getting the feeling that won't happen. But I'm trying! Whenever anyone asks me how my book is going I tell them "I have a little over 76,000 words, I think I have about another 5,000 to go." Their reaction is always, is that how you think about your writing, in terms of words instead of pages? And I say yes. Because 5,000 words doesn't feel like that much work to me. What I don't tell them is that the story is killing me, it's been so hard to write and putting it in terms of word count instead of the story making sense helps to ease my anxiety.

I have a very short attention span. I love a sprint, hate a marathon. So thinking long term is not terribly motivating to me. I'm not a big fan of delayed gratification. I'd like my dessert now, please.

I don't usually make long term writing goals because so much intervenes - like life - and I don't want to get discouraged. And the fact is, every book is different. I've written books in 3 months and 6 months and now this one has taken two years. So I stick with shooting for base hits instead of home runs. Write 1,000 words. Edit the first two chapters. Don't sit by the pool reading other people's books instead of writing your own (that's a hard goal to stick to).

So I'll probably stick to my base hits when it comes to goals for 2012. I'll keep to a weekly writing schedule. I'll not give up on my book because it's hard. I'll type 1,000 words and hope it all comes together. I'll edit to make it all better.

And this year I'll be doing something a little different to set myself going in the right direction. See those paper lanterns in that photo? those are Wishing Lanterns I purchased. You light them like little hot air balloons and set them free into the night sky while you make a wish. My wish this year will have to do with my writing. And even though they're not "goal lanterns" I'm hoping that when I get off track I will remember what it was like to send my wish out to the universe and do what it takes to make it come true.

While those don't sound so exciting or like major achievements, they will - eventually - get me over the finish line. Even if I'm crossing a little later than I'd hoped.

Just say no to the apocalypse and other 2012 goals

My father used to keep a hand-made notepad in his shirt pocket. He’d repurpose various unwritten on pieces of paper, cut them evenly, staple them together and then jot on them. Things to do, grocery lists, reminders. Each December as the year turned, he’d get a new wall calendar and meticulously go through the months, marking birthdays and anniversaries so he would remember to send cards. In his desk drawer were stacks of index cards for everyone we knew with their birthdates, addresses, phone numbers… when a new baby was born, he’d mark it. When someone died, he’d mark that, too. Low tech, yes. But highly effective.

It is thus no great surprise that I am a list maker and a goal setter. In fact, for the past six years, I’ve written myself a letter every New Year’s day, taking stock of what has gone on and establishing what I’m aiming for in the new year. Not that I always get there. I often don’t. Plans can change. Plans can fail. I can tell my plan to go to hell or cling to it like a burr. But only if I have one first. Or as my husband is fond of saying when I obsess too much with “what if?”: What if it rains hockey pucks? We’ll all get concussions. Which is his version of my late Uncle Harry’s bit of German Jew wisdom – Man plans and God laughs.

For what it’s worth, here is next year’s plan, in many ways not that different from my esteemed colleagues who have already posted: (this is the life of the 27th of the month poster; the good stuff has often been said. But in January I take over a new date, the 7th, so watch out!)

1. Finish the book that I’ve been writing on and off since late 2008. I love this book. I am meant to write this book. I believe in this book. My agent believes in this book. My critique group believes in this book. But life has continued to get in its way. I have written and sold and edited three other books (2 of which are due out in the coming months) since I began this one. I’ve left teaching, been a mother of the groom, recovered from cancer and drunk tequila of questionable origin while standing on a bar in Ensenada since I began this book. (Don’t ask. Really. Don’t.) But it’s time to get it done. I’m giving myself until April.
2. Continue to find balance in life. Work, family, play, travel and all the rest. It’s been a little easier the past few months because I’m not teaching full time. But life has a way of filling the space. Yeah, I’m not grading essays and research papers for 8 hours every Sunday. That's start. But I also need to stop giving myself a hard time if I don't get it right. Cause sometimes I won't.
3. Breathe easy about Anastasia Forever. It's coming out in August. I've done good work. My Sourcebooks team has done good work. I need to enjoy and celebrate this. A lot!
4. Get better at saying no. Except when I should say yes. Accept compliments graciously rather than denying them. (I hate that I do this. But it's hard to stop)
5. Be present. Which means that while I could expand this list, I won’t. I have a life to enjoy.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

embrace the joy of discovery - Alisa M. Libby

This is an image from Lynda Barry's beautiful book WHAT IT IS. She writes about how she tortured herself every day she sat down to work, asking herself "What is it? Is it good? Don't you know?!?!" The doubts were suffocating her creativity. Finally she learned (or re-learned) to accept and embrace the NOT knowing, and she was able to create again.

I have this page propped on my desk right now, to remind myself to have patience. Writing a book is an adventure, and we don't necessarily know how the journey will end when we begin. So why not just persevere, regardless of doubt and insecurity, and enjoy the scenery while we're at it?

I'll echo Emily Whitman's post, because it was simple and struck a chord with me: "Life is a balance. Writing is part of it." An important part of my life, but not the only part. When the writing isn't going well, there are other things - people I love, in particular - who can lift me up and help me through the rough spots. There will be rough spots; that's just how writing goes, for me, at least. But there is joy in the process as well, and that's why I'm still working at it. Not because it's easy, but because it's what I do.

It's a rich and varied life, this writing life. I wish all of you, bloggers and readers alike, a joyful holiday season. And an inspired year ahead.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Goal Completed--Sarah Porter

Two days ago I finished the last volume of the Lost Voices Trilogy and sent it off to my publishers. It was almost three months past the deadline, and the manuscript just kept getting longer and longer and seemed like it would never end. Then, all at once, all the wriggling strands of plot started tying together, the characters made their decisions, the rewriting wrapped up, and there I was looking at a completed novel--and also, for the first time in my life, a completed series.

The final volume is called The Twice Lost, and it will be out in July 2013.

It's very long and epic, so long that it really could have been two books instead of one, but so packed with plot that I don't see any way it could have been shorter.

And now it's like I'm sitting on a beach after some enormous sweeping wave has just receded out to sea, trying to make sense of the reconfigured landscape and of all the strange detritus around me on the shore. I'm drained and disoriented and very tired. After spending three years immersed in this story, close to these characters, it's hard to say goodbye.

I do have other projects to work on, other goals for the coming year: a half-completed novel for adults to finish, an idea for a new YA. But I can't think about them yet. My mind is still swarming with fragments of the book I've just finished, snatches of dialogue, the light on the water where the mermaids swam away.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Goals Shmoals - by CJ Omololu

I don't set goals. Ever. I go to a writer's conference every year and at the end there is a big ceremony where you write down a goal on a piece of paper and then throw it into the fire. I always set fire to a blank piece of paper. Goals for me are just little scraps of reprimand, tangible evidence that I didn't accomplish what I set out to do.

Despite my feelings toward actually setting goals, there are things that I know deep down I always wanted to accomplish. When I'm feeling like I should quit writing, I like to look back on the thing I've actually done right:

1. Growing up, I always felt this nagging inside that there was something I was supposed to be doing, but it wasn't until I wrote my first story at the age of 38 that I even had an inkling of what that thing was. I'm grateful that I finally figured it out.

2. I started writing initially because I wanted to see more brown kids in books. I'm thrilled that my book TRANSCENDENCE that is coming out in June has a gorgeous, hot, brown boy on the cover (the one that's out there now on Goodreads and Amazon is NOT the final) that I hope to be able to show soon.

3. When my kids were small, I'd walk through the Scholastic book fair and wonder how a person actually got a book on those shelves and how it would feel. I'm thrilled to say, I finally found out this year:

This was at my son's middle school and I had no idea it was going to be there. Let's just say it was one of my life-highlights so far. And why yes, a poster just like that happens to reside in our basement room as we speak.

There are a couple of 'wants' that I'm trying to work on this year:

1. I want to listen more. I have very little interaction during the day with other humans, so when I get with people I tend to talk too much. I want to learn to listen rather than just waiting to talk. When you really listen, people have great stories to tell and you might be able to steal them for your writing.

2. I want to stop wasting so much time. I finally have a great writing space - lots of light, plenty of work surface, places for books etc.:

It even comes with a cat and a dog. There's only one problem with this workspace, which you might be able to spot with a photo from my work chair:

Yeah, it's in my kitchen. Which means that every time someone walks through the room, I get distracted. I spend a lot of my writing time cleaning, tweeting and fussing around - it takes a long time to focus. I'm not sure if I solve this by learning to drywall or just figuring out an iron-clad work schedule, but it's something I want to do.

3. I want to see my book being read 'in the wild'. A few years ago I was at a skate park in another town (yeah, I hang out at skate parks) and spotted a girl reading a friend's book. I texted that friend right away and we squealed about how cool that was. I'd love to see someone I don't know, on a train, in a cafe, reading my book in public (one of the reasons I'm not totally sold on ereaders - you can't peek at covers). Nothing I can do to make that happen except spend 2o12 writing the best books I possibly can.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Celebrating Firsts by Lauren Bjorkman

While my everyone looks ahead toward their goals for next year, I’m going to look back. Oppositional defiant disorder, much? Seriously, December—if you can take a moment from the holiday frenzy to breathe—is the perfect time for reflection.

This year had many firsts for me.

I wrote my first short story since high school—The Shark King—for an e-book anthology aptly call THE FIRST TIME. It’s a collection about love-kissing-boyfriends-girlfriends, but also relationships with parents, hardships, and triumphs, with a bonus zombie slaying or two.

Twenty-five of the 2009 Debutantes contributed stories, including YAOTLs Cheryl Renee Herbsman, Sydney Salter, and Janet Gurtler. These stories are amazing! (and available here and here for just $2.99 :D)

Writing a story for the anthology led to another first—buying an e-book reader for my birthday. Though I’m a fanatic about real books, I wanted to give the new technology a try. So far, I like it. I usually read in bed, and I’ve found my new device to be small and easy to hold. Don’t call me a convert yet, but it’s much easier on the eyes than a regular computer screen. Maybe it will even save a few trees.

Now I better go write those goals for 2012.

Happy, merry, joy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reach for the Joy of the Work, and Other Almost-Resolutions, by Emily Whitman

This picture is Edward Lear's Foss the Cat. He makes me happy. That's one of my goals this year. To keep reaching for the little things that give me zaps of pleasure, that wake me up. To find ideas lurking in odd places, and be awake enough to know, "That one is MINE," in a greedy, instinctive way.

Here are my writing goals for 2012, my "almost-resolutions"--almost because, as much as I think I should just know them once and for all, they are things I have to discover over and over and over again, as if we're meeting for the first time.

Reach for the joy of the work!

Practice craft! Be greedy for new ideas about ways of working.

Stay in touch with the muse.

The parts that are hard mean there's also soul work to be done. Gather bravery and plunge in.

Feed writing friendships and community so they grow.

Life is a balance. Writing is part of it.

Get stuff done, get it out in the world, and let it breathe on its own.

Happy holidays to you and yours!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

GOALS 2012 by Wendy Delsol

Must we? In order to identify areas where we seek improvement, it’s necessary to broadcast our less-than-perfect selves. But okay. So as not to be the pooper of the group, I’ll ’fess up and resolve to improve on the following:

I’ll set a realistic deadline for my current work in progress. 2011 was a little … shall we say … nuts. I have other more colorful adjectives for that particular twelve month span, but I reserve those nuggets for occasions when the repeat of them would be your word against mine. Anyway, in 2011, I released two novels and wrote one. With edits and promotion (of my 2010 release) and book-related travel, the manuscript I wasn’t writing (the third in my Stork trilogy) became a constant source of stress and worry. I did finish it, but it required a very grueling schedule, one that had me miss our family vacation, work seven-day weeks, and press new frown lines into my forehead (like I needed more of those). This year, I’ll know my limits.

I’m not a complete slacker when it comes to exercise. Tennis is my sport of choice, but unfortunately an arm injury limits me to only one or two days of serves and volleys a week. And with the above mentioned work load, workouts were something that simply got cut from the schedule. Next year I’m adding Zumba into the mix. Anyone out there into Zumba? So much stinkin’ fun! In addition to my tennis team and the occasional walk, I plan on sambaing my way back into some of the jeans that have been out of rotation.

As the mother of two teen boys (14 and 16), my shopping list includes requests such as Oreos, Doritos, cookie-dough ice cream, Reese’s peanut butter cups … I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that I’m surrounded by temptation. And thoroughly disappointed in what I now allow my kids to consume. This from one who, when my kids were toddlers, was a Whole Foods regular. I now find myself looking around guiltily lest a neighbor see me unloading the 24-pack of Coke, Funyuns, and frozen pizzas. And with my insane 2011 writing schedule, there weren’t many home-cooked meals. In 2012, I’m consciously thinking about food as fuel, shopping the outer aisles more often (as opposed to the inner aisles of processed foods), and getting my unadventurous eaters to try healthier options. If only some of my old tricks were still available to me, but … hey … I’m a creative type, right?

I think I’ll quit there. I’m a firm believer that goals only work when realistic. If I were to add a bunch more resolutions—like learning patience or sticking to a budget or tackling Faulkner—then nothing would get done.

Happy 2012 to one and all. Life is an amazing journey. I wish you unexpected treasures, rewarding detours, delightful company, and a tailwind.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I might have goals. (Geoff Herbach)

So, I’m sitting here in San Francisco, where I don’t live (I live in a colder place in the upper-Midwest). Whoa. San Francisco is pretty nice. I’m in a Japanese Hotel (manga-themed – I’m serious -- check out Steph with our room's deer mural with a city in its tummy). This place has nice furniture. I’m thinking: hmm… I like all this little furniture. I have space to walk around in between this nice furniture. Why is my office back home so filled with crap? Answer: I pile paper on paper. Mail is under my students’ work, which is under my lunch plate and soda cans and newspapers, and all these books I’m in the middle of reading are scattered across the plates and papers and essay exams. Gross. I do have a goal: In 2012 I will act as if I live in this Japanese Hotel in San Francisco. There is no paper piled on the furniture here, because the furniture is too small to hold piles. I’m going to buy some new furniture and maybe do some recycling.

I think I have some other goals, too...

Do you guys ever wake up in the middle of the night? I do all the time. I’m generally awake from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. For most of my adult life I’ve thought I don’t sleep well because I have so much on my mind. Responsibilities and big ideas, you know? But you have stuff on your mind, too, right? Most of you sleep okay. I drink about sixteen cups of coffee a day. No biggie, except I read an article on the internet recently that said caffeine over-consumption can make a guy jumpy. True. I’m a freaked out monkey man and I don’t sleep very well. Could it be the coffee? Maybe. We’ll see. Goal two: drink less coffee.

Because I once was a cigarette smoker, I now exercise a whole lot to try to improve my unhealthy body. Exercise works. I’m pretty fast (I know because I race a lot of moms at the track at the YMCA, and I defeat most of them). Unfortunately, exercise makes me really hungry. I’m never hungry for broccoli or bananas. I’m really hungry for Dino’s pizza and sometimes Pagliai’s pizza. So I stop off at one of these restaurants quite often and then I eat a lot of pizza. It doesn’t make me fat, exactly. I’m just getting these massive, powerful thighs from exercise and pizza. My thighs don’t fit in my pants very well. All of my pants are exploding in the groin area. That’s trouble. I teach college. Try teaching with your pants blowing out. Not easy. Goal three: stop eating so much Dino’s and Pagliai’s pizza (or stop exercising).

Did you know I live in a log cabin? Seriously. I’ll show you a picture.

I got married this year to my favorite person in the world. She lives in the cabin with me. Another goal for 2012 is to be a really nice person to my wife, Steph. I am going to turn this cabin into the greatest, sweetest place in the world. That seems like a good goal.

San Francisco is pretty great. Tonight we’re meeting up with a big pack of college friends. We’re going to a Russian restaurant where we’ll toast each other a lot and laugh and probably high-five each other (because we are old nerds). It should be fantastic. Sometimes I forget there’s a nice, big world outside of my computer. Yes, I want to keep writing a ton. I love writing. I love my computer. But I want to remember how excellent real people are, too. I want to spend a lot of time in 2012 with people I love. That’s my final goal.

The last two goals are the most important.

Yes! I do have goals!

Hope all is well with you!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Soul Goal (Cheryl Renée Herbsman)

This year has been one of altering my relationship to goals. I have always been a very goal-oriented person. I love goals -- hate deadlines -- but love goals. I'm happier when I'm working toward something, preferably something in the realm of dreams come true. But as Anna posted on Monday, sometimes reaching a goal can make us really second guess our efforts on the next one. After my debut, Breathing, became a book, I got lost in trying to understand which elements led to its publication and in trying to figure out how to reproduce them. I started to see myself as a professional, which in some ways was great, and in other ways tied me up, caused me to forget the simple beauty of just writing without all those expectations.

When my daughter became ill this summer, I didn't care about writing at all, and I wondered if I ever would again. It didn't take long for me to remember how much I need to write. And when I came back to it, it was with a new understanding. I wrote for me. I wrote what needed to be written. And I'm pleased with the writing.

So when I think about goals for 2012, for me it's not about getting a certain amount of writing done or aspiring  to a specific endpoint. It's about trusting life more, not fighting windmills, not pushing through closed doors. It's about moving forward in my own way, at my own pace. It's about trusting that the right doors will open at the right times, that there's no rush, no urgency. It's about not trying to please everyone or compare myself to anyone. It's about writing what my soul needs to write.

There's something very freeing about this type of goal. I don't have to worry about whether or not I'll accomplish it. Because it's not an accomplishment. It's not something that I either succeed or fail at. It's something I can try anew each day. And if I don't move forward on it today, I can try again tomorrow. It's calming to start the year not feeling stressed about reaching my goal. I plan to focus on balance and presence -- sinking into the world of writing when I write, being present with my family when I'm not writing, enjoying each in its time rather than being lost in one world while living the other. It can be tempting to declare our work "important" and set it on the top of the priority list. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we shouldn't treat our work as a priority. I set aside writing time almost every week day. But there are other things that are just as and even more important. I want to remember that this year and allow it to help me find the right balance.

Whatever your goals may be, whichever type works best for you, here's wishing you a year filled with health and hope, joy and laughter, love and peace.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My top 12 desires for 2012 (Julie Chibbaro)

1. Be funny (on paper).

2. Stop being so serious (on paper).

3. Don’t let myself be bullied by adults (I don’t know about you, but I still get bullied by some people in my life, no names. I’m getting pretty tired of doing stuff I don’t want to do.) And acknowledge kindnesses of people who are not bullies.

4. Do more stuff for the world, like help out at that local community garden.

5. Stop going to doctors for fibromyalgia. They don’t know anything.

6. Drive my car less.

7. Teach my 5-year-old to be less sarcastic.

8. Embrace my husband’s wish to grow a goatee, no matter how it itches when I kiss him.

9. Open my mind. To everything I can imagine. And believe I can do it.

10. Learn more about homeopathy. Heal myself, mind and body.

11. Grow herbs, not weeds, in that sunny area beside my house.

12. Survive the NY winter.

I think I could go on and on with this list. I find that my writing goals are intrinsically linked to outside-of-myself goals, and that if I stay true to those outside goals, I will stay true in my writing. When I get crazy and start thinking about what others think of me and my books, then I can’t write so good. I can’t hear myself. And aren’t I supposed to be writing from the very soul of me? Isn’t that the reason we try so hard to communicate with each other? Because we all have something to say?

The biggest thing I look forward to next year is working with Jen Hunt at Dial (Penguin). She bought my novel Aurora Borealis & Amazing that I was talking about back in June (Holding My Ground).

And that was certainly worth waiting for.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Resolutions Past and Present (Stephanie Kuehnert)

In 2010, I made the really lofty goal/resolution to write two books or at least finish one and have a solid start on the other.... This ended badly. 2010 was an incredibly stressful year. It was one thing after the next and I'd never had bigger doubts about my career. I'd spent the previous two years promoting my books and not writing nearly enough. I couldn't seem to find balance and enough time to write, but worst of all my writing didn't feel good. I was convinced I'd lost my mojo, especially when my book derailed roughly 3/4ths of the way because it was way too big and I had way too many loose ends to tie up.

In 2011, I had one goal: be less miserable and stressed than I was in 2010. I also really wanted to finish that damn book. Two out of three ain't bad. I finished the damn book (and found a way to turn my misery into inspiration for further writing as I discuss on Nova Ren Suma's blog here) and I was less miserable even though I wasn't less stressed. Weird combo, I know. 2011 was still a really tough year personally (a lot of loved ones going through hard times) and professionally, but for the most part, I kept my head above water.... Except for August and September. I was kind of a wreck during August and September when it all came to a head, but I had good friends to lean on, and that I've learned, is key. Also, the professional stuff, though it was stressful, it wasn't awful. I went through an agent search this year, which while difficult, ended with me signing with the person I think is a great match for me and my books. She gave me the final push I needed to get my book submission worthy. I also took on the added professional responsibilities of teaching a YA Fiction class and writing for ROOKIE, an online magazine for teenage girls. ROOKIE is pretty much as big of a dream as getting my novels published and the students in my class have been amazing, so despite the extra workload, which has cut into my book-writing time (something that generally makes me severely cranky) and made my social life completely non-existent, I've kept my spirits up.

After I (finally!) finished the first book I started in 2010, I went back to examine the other book I'd been planning to write back then, which is dangerous new territory for me: magical realism or as I'm calling it The Modern Myth YA. I spent a lot of the summer and then most of NaNoWriMo grappling with it (as explained in this blog) before finally finding my footing on a writing retreat after Thanksgiving (as explained with pretty pictures in this blog). Of course I came home from the retreat to a pile of freelance and teaching work, which I only just unburied myself from late last night. This morning I tried to write, but struggled. I have a friend visiting from Asia for the month. She's one of my oldest and dearest friends and since she mostly lives abroad now, I rarely see her. I'm not honestly sure how much writing I'll get done over the next couple of weeks because a few years ago after losing three friends to sudden illnesses and accidents in quick succession (a thing you really don't expect in your late 20s/early 30s), I made a life resolution to put people before work and this fall I haven't really kept to that. So I'm going to for the next couple of weeks and that's fine, right? (Yeah, I need reassurance on these things because I really am kind of a workaholic.)

It may not be until January that I get back into serious writing mode, which brings me to a new year and the perfect time to set new goals and resolutions. My main resolution is the same as last year: I would like 2012 to be better that 2011 was. To achieve that goal I would like to:

1. Find balance between my book writing, my freelance work and other jobs, the business/promo side of writing (ie. blogs, social networking, and email), and my social life, but since this has been a goal since 2008, just as important is...

2. Not beating myself up when I can't find that balance. With all the jobs I have both because I adore them and need them all to make ends meet to do this writing thang, my daily life is akin to that of a juggling tightrope walker. I need to get used to that and not panic when one of the balls falls because as long as I'm still on the tightrope it's all good. Or maybe I need to come to terms with that fact that for me balance means doing things in chunks, having a week that is writing, a week that is doing my other jobs, a week that is socializing, or something. Though....

3. I really would like to find a routine where I write at least 5 days a week even if it is only for a couple of hours. Finding a way to put that first on a more regular basis would definitely help 2012 surpass 2011.

4. I also need to beat myself up less/worry less about how good my writing is or about things I can't control like that book I spent so long on being out on sub now and *gulp* who knows if it will sell and if it doesn't who knows what that will mean for me... <--- Yes, those thoughts must end. I've struggled my way through three books, I can make it through a fourth.

5. And *spoken very quietly* I really would like to get through that book this year. I've come to terms with the fact (or I'm trying at least!) that I'm a slower writer than some of my peers. I'm going to have to work my way into this book, then I'll speed race for a while until I hit that point where I feel like it sucks and it will never work. I'll get all angsty over that for a while, but I will figure it out. Then I will finish. And revise. And finish. And revise at least one more time before it is good enough to go out on submission. There is nothing wrong with that taking all of 2012. Sure, ideally it would be awesome to finish by the beginning of October so I get a new project prepped to do NaNoWriMo the way I want to do it next year, but I don't want to make my goals so lofty that 2012 is a repeat of 2010. I am very wary of even numbers after all. So, one year, one book--a book that I'm roughly 40 pages into and have a relatively solid idea about where it is going (um other than some murky stuff in the middle)--hopefully it will be doable. I haven't blocked out specific deadlines for myself yet because it's too early to do so, though first 100 pages done by the end of January would be awesome.

But above all, my goal is to just write (I'm totally on board with our new YAOTL blogger Anna's post from yesterday!), be kinder to myself, make the effort to spend as much time with my loved ones, and remain hopeful that things will continue to improve. Those are my resolutions for 2012 and also life in general. What are yours?

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Quest to Just Write (Anna Staniszewski)

I'm so excited to be doing my first post here at YA Outside the Lines! Nothing makes me happier than being surrounded by fellow authors. *grins*

When I was thinking about my main writing goal for 2012, I realized it could be summed up in two words: Just write.

Over the past few years, as I've gone through querying, signing with an agent, getting a book contract, and seeing my book in print, I've found that I've been putting more and more pressure on my writing. When I sit down to write, I can hear a "List of Musts" in my head: It must be good and publishable and unique, etc etc etc. Having all those demands poking at my brain can be paralyzing!

When I start to panic, I think back to when I first started writing My Very UnFairy Tale Life. This was the fun project I would work on to get away from other manuscripts that were dragging me down. The List of Musts wasn't in my head because all I cared about was making myself laugh. And funnily enough, that's the project that wound up getting published. Who knew taking the pressure off your writing could be so beneficial?

Ultimately, that's my goal for 2012. To stop putting so much pressure on myself. To write not because it's my job but because I enjoy it. Even if I spend months working on something that will never be in print, it won't be a waste of time. How could it be when I love to write? I'm going to enjoy the process, enjoy the freedom of being creative, and try my darndest to quiet that List of Musts.

What are your 2012 writing goals? Anyone else planning to join me in the quest to Just Write?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Goal Tending 2012--Jan Blazanin

Before I list my goals for the new year, these are the events from 2011 I do not want to repeat--ever:

# 1: Breast cancer. Been there, done that, had zero fun in the process. Apologies to the other survivors, but I won’t be wearing a pink ribbon or survivor tee shirt. My tumor was smaller than tiny and a rare form of cancer that spreads super-slow. A biopsy followed by a lumpectomy and reconstruction, and I was done. Those women who suffered through mastectomies, radiation, and chemotherapy earned their badges of honor. I salute them.

# 2: Crashing my new bicycle into the side of a moving automobile. Also zero fun. And major embarrassment. And excruciating pain from landing on my rear in the middle of the road. Make that zero minus ten on the fun scale. Nothing broken, everything bruised. I hobbled for weeks afterward.

# 3: After the first two, do you really think I need a #3?

With the never-to-be-repeated bad stuff out of the way, here are my 2012 goals:

1. I will learn to ride my bike without falling over. To turn my bike without falling over. To start and stop my bike without falling over. You get the picture.

2. I will not over train. Too much running caused my Achilles tendon injury, which was the reason I was biking instead of running. I will rest one day a week from running. (Or one day every other week--for sure.) If it hurts, I will rest until it feels better. Yes, I will.

3. I will take back my life from my dogs and cats. Sure, they're proud of how well they’ve trained me, but I’d double my writing productivity if I didn’t get up every few seconds to let them in or out or feed them a snack or toss the ball for Sammy Stripers the kitten to fetch. Or Gizmo the dog to fetch. Or to pet Sassy who’s bored because I’m been writing for 10 minutes in a row. Limits must be set.

4. I will reduce the number of high calorie snacks I eat while writing. Half a wheel of Brie is not the solution to a tricky plot point. Four squares of dark chocolate will not help me develop rounder characters. A rounder rear, yes. Characters, no. Wandering into the kitchen for food is a stalling tactic, not a writing tool.

5. I will finish my presentation for the Iowa SCBWI conference at the end of April BEFORE April so I have lots of time to practice and tweak it.

6. (Fantasy Goal) I will finish the third draft of my contemporary YA fantasy by the end of January and send it to my agent. She will adore it. Several editors will covet it. A bidding war will ensue. The high bid will be millions of dollars. I will accept it. Modestly.

7. (Realistic Goal 6) I will finish the third draft of my contemporary YA fantasy by the end of January and send it to my agent. I will cross my fingers and wait. The waiting may cause some backsliding on Goal 4. That's to be expected.

May you reach all your goals in 2012, especially the fantasy ones.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Goals? Oh, Goody! (Sydney Salter)

I adore setting goals. I jot monthly goals on my writing calendar, daily goals in a little spiral notebook, and, of course, on January 1st my loftiest ambitions go into the daily diaries I've been keeping since high school. So I thought it would be fun to go back in time, sift through my old journals, and peek at my past goals.

How naive was I in 2002? I'd just finished my first novel manuscript--so naturally I set an appropriate goal. Nothing about revision or submission, I planned to win the Newberry (yeah, I spelled it wrong).

By 2004 I'd learned to set more modest goals. "Celebrate your victories, however small--a nice comment scrawled on a form letter." I'd received a lot of those by that time. That aforementioned Newbery-award winning novel? I sent it out way too soon, before I learned how to revise. And revise. And revise.

"I hope I sell a manuscript, but I mostly hope to stay optimistic. (Keep writing! Keep believing!)," I wrote in 2007. Six months later I would sell My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters in a two-book deal. A few months later, I'd sell that first novel, Jungle Crossing, as well. The cheerleading tone of my goal doesn't show it, but I'd come close to giving up on my writing dreams that January. 

An eye-opening debut author experience had me setting this goal in 2010: "Do NOT compare your career path to others. No, no, no!" Two years later I'm still reminding myself about that one as yet another year ends without a new manuscript sale.

Apparently I, too, am a Work-In-Progress. I pull out volumes written by a younger me.

The year I got engaged, 1992, found me scrawling notes about planning a beautiful wedding and beginning a happy new life, but I also wanted to "write (fiction) every day." Back then I filled hundreds of pages of spiral notebooks with practice writing, using every inch of every page, wanting so much to improve my craft. Hey, I smile, all that practice did amount to something.

So I go back further. 1985. Junior year of high school. Oh, this should be good. I probably resolve to get a boyfriend, better grades, maybe start fewer fights with my mother. But this is what I read on January 1st, "I learned something: NEVER, NEVER take another person's doubts and bad talk to be your (my) own."

I'm stunned. I've been struggling with that exact issue all year. (And I'm so much older now!)

My newly seventeen-year-old self continues, "I will be my own person. My own thoughts. My own opinions. I know it's easy for me to doubt things right now--but I shouldn't let others magnify that small doubt." I continue reading, "I learned that I can be my own person and have tremendous self-confidence doing it. I am doing OK."

So my goal for 2012? I vow to be more like my seventeen-year-old self. I am doing OK.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Idea. Junkie. (Holly Schindler)

I’m an idea junkie. It’s a bit of a disease, actually. I get two, three chapters into a new project when I'm suddenly bowled over by the concept for yet another book.

When I first began the pursuit of publication, those new ideas would sometimes get me sidetracked. I learned I need to keep a spiral-bound notebook where I can jot down the basics of a new plot, then get back to the project at hand.

Being the idea junkie I am, I recently found myself with a backlog of projects I wanted to get out of outline form…I reorganized my office, getting all my materials in order so that I could move straight from one project to the next, throughout 2012. Ten in all. Yeah. I know. Ten new books. I’ve got the list of books (written in the order in which I'll tackle them) thumbtacked to the wall above my computer, in my office.

My true goal for 2012, though? Not to get all the way through the list.

Writers know the scenario well: you get about halfway through drafting a new book when your editor sends you the revision notes for a book you’ve already got in development. You have to put your current project aside, to work on revisions.

Right now, my agent’s shopping several new books...and I have to admit, my Christmas wish is that my agent will sell those projects, and I’ll be interrupted all through 2012, as the revision notes for those books come in from editors…

At this point, I’ve quit just crossing my fingers. I now have my toes crossed, my eyes crossed, the strands in my ponytail crossed…A little bit of praying doesn't hurt anything, either:

Until then, I’ll be plugging away at the first project on my list!

Here’s to 2012!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Janet on Why Writing Goals Can be Tough and Letting Go of Control.

I used to be really good at setting goals and achieving them.  When I worked in sales and marketing goals were a big part of my day. I had goals for each account I called on, goals from my sales manager, marketing, brand managers. I had weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals.  I was a goal getter.

I find making goals as a writer much more difficult because this is not always a business of black and white. There is a lot of grey, and as an author I also find there is much I don't have control over.  And that makes it sometimes more difficult to make concrete goals and complete them.

For example, before I was published I could set a goal that I would have a book published in the next year. Well. I couldn't really make that happen. Not really. I could do all sorts of things to try to make it happen. Write the book.  Make it the best it could be. Revise it. Send it out. Get feedback. But I couldn't MAKE someone decide to publish it.  Same with the goal for getting an agent.

After publication goals became a little easier, but still not the same as the world I left behind. When I was in sales I was all about numbers.  I needed to achieve them after all.  I had to sell X amount of product, which was all tied into my goals. I had control over those numbers to some extent. I could analyze and see what I needed to do to sell more of something in one area, in a given time period. I could plan it and make it happen. I had tools. I had will. I was driven and liked to be challenged.

With books, it's so different. I can make goals as far as finishing a book. Yes. I would definitely like to write a new YA novel next year. I can set myself a timeline. But even as a published author, I still have to sell that book.  I'd like to do it BEFORE I write it. And there's no guarantees.

I can make craft goals. Which I will. Reading two new craft books for 2012. That is a goal. As is improving my craft. But how do I  measure that success? How do I know if  my goal is achieved if it isn't 100% measurable.  For every person who thinks a book is a wonderful addition to the YA category, there's another person who thinks the same book is drivel. It's a subjective thing, this book business.

With my sales background, I also find it a little tough not to know exactly how many books I'm selling at a given time. I do find out eventually of course. There's royalty statements and of course, there are weekly Bookscan number updates on Amazon. I have an idea. But that doesn't give you the whole picture. There's no comparables. I can only see my books. I can't see how my books are doing compared with others in my genre. It's not what I'm used to. I want facts, figures, analysis. Concrete ways to help and to fix and to build and....


Fortunately, I am with a great and progressive publisher, Sourcebooks and my editor is amazing at providing me with feedback about sales. I think she's clued in to my desire to know numbers and she helps out when she can. And that's amazing. I know it's not the case with all publishing houses. So I'm lucky they are willing to feed my obsession!

I guess what I have learned is that goals as writers have to be flexible. I need to let go of some of my control issues. I can make goals. I will complete a new YA novel next year. I will continue to work on my craft. I will book more school visits. I can even make that a concrete number. 5?  I will go to at least one writing conference. I will apply for a writing grant.

I'd like to include goals that are a little less self serving. I am putting on a writing workshop at one SCWBI meeting already in 2012. I want to try to share my experiences with other writers in my community who seek some of the knowledge I'm lucky enough to have as a published author.

I want to do something with teens that is helpful. A great goal for me is to find a mentoring program.  See, already so many things I have control over and I guess that is what I have to focus on.

I feel fortunate to be at a point in my writing that I'm actually writing on a deadline. Right this very moment. I sold a book on proposal, and it needs to be done in a couple of weeks. How often did I dream about that?  How often did I hear authors complain or worry about deadlines and think how wonderful that sounded?

I'm hoping that 2012 is going to be a good year! I have a new Sourcebooks title coming out in the fall. I'm super excited about it. I'm going to be in the DEAR TEEN ME anthology! I'm hoping for a new book sale too!

All I can do is continue to do things to nurture my writing soul. I am fortunate and lucky enough to be in this crazy wacky business and I want to enjoy the ride for as long as I can.

Not knowing numbers or concrete facts is just a part of the wild ride. And things are changing. So quickly. With the growth of e books and new technology some day I may look back on all of this with fond nostalgia.

Happy Holidays to all the YA OUTSIDE THE LINES readers!

Happy Goal Setting!