Tag Archives: goal setting

Setting Priorities

My datebook’s a mess. I’ve been tracking what I do every day so I know where I’m spending time. It all goes onto a weekly chart that I’m sharing with a accountability writing buddy. What I’ve found is I slide off into unplanned activities and spend too much time on things that aren’t really that important.

So the tracking has been a good thing. While I’ve accomplished a lot the last three months (see last week’s Quarterly Report), the tracking records show that I could be using my time more effectively.

Enter the new experiment – or is it old? I sat down this morning and made a traditional four-box matrix for my writing activities. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, this is what it looks like:

Urgent Not Urgent
Primary Importance  1  3
Secondary  2  4

Of course, you can louse this up by putting too many things in the urgent & important box, which leads to feeling overwhelmed to the point nothing gets done.

I’ve used this matrix for each of the next few months. For example, consider developing materials for the workshop I’m teaching in June (Self-Publishing for Educators, at Sierra Community College). This is of Primary Importance, because this is the first workshop I’m teaching in this area and I’ll be judged by it. However, the class is at the end of June. So in April, that will be in the upper right-hand box (3), Primary Importance but Not Urgent. In May, I’ll move it into the upper left-hand box, Primary and Urgent (1). In April, I may work on it, but only after April’s Primary/Urgent matters are addressed.

Secondary tasks may be urgent, like getting the reading done for critique groups, or secondary and non-urgent, like making sure I get some exercise in each day. The things in the secondary/urgent box (2) will be scheduled on a timely basis, but won’t replace taking care of items in (1). The items in secondary/non-urgent (4) will get some attention throughout the week, but they’ll be slipped in between the items in the other three boxes.

This clarification of priorities makes it easy to decide what needs to be done when. On days I have a lot of meetings, I’ll knock off some of the secondary items. When I’m home all day, I’ll focus on something of primary importance that needs to be done urgently.

I’ll still use my datebook as a tracking device, noting what I’m doing during the day, but the only thing getting penciled in ahead of time will be meetings. The weekly chart will still go to my accountability buddy. But hopefully it will reflect more time spent on the most important things.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
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First Quarter Review

Back at the end of December, I set my goals for 2018. Well, March is behind us – the end of the first quarter of the year, when businesses assess how they’re doing.

My primary writing goal for the year is to make at least $10,000 and I’m losing money at this point. So when I looked at the page with three columns of objectives and steps to reach each that I set up at the beginning of the year, I initially felt disheartened. Then I took a closer look and made notes.

To achieve that one writing goal, I have three objectives. I’ve made progress on each.

Goal #1: Maintain and build on promotional activities, center them on the book coming out later this year (Peg’s Story). Progress:

  • I haven’t had any shorts published yet, but I’ve researched markets, organized my submission process, and have seven pending. I know where each will be sent next.
  • I’ve written this blog every week and several posts have been dedicated to how my writing needs to link to the Me Too movement, which ties in with Peg’s Story.
  • I’ve listened to podcasts and started reading the new edition of Self-Publishing Bootcamp. I’ll focus more on developing the release and marketing plan for Peg’s Story in the next three months.

Goal #2: Keep working on new material. Progress:

  • I have several chapters of a romance novel written and re-written with critique group input. I set up rules for myself in previous blog posts – I want strong heroines.
  • I am developing a YA paranormal novel with feedback from two critique groups – one gets the first draft, I revise, then submit it to the second. This pushes me to keep producing at least two chapters a month through polished level.
  • I’m reworking shorts for the specific markets I’ve decided my work fits.

Goal #3: Do workshops. This goal needs to be amended to Do Activities that Generate Income. Progress:

  • I’ll be teaching a summer workshop Self-Publishing for Educators through Community Education at Sierra Community College and have applied to teach that and a Self-Publishing Basics workshop in the fall.
  • I’m shepherding a local artist and writer, Suzanne BlaneyHer website had been shut down and her Amazon author page was incomplete. I’ve started updating her online presence and her domain is pending transfer to GoDaddy, where I’ll be able to rebuild it for her. She’s finishing up a new art book and I’ll be editing that.
  • I’m negotiating a contract to write another screenplay for Nasser Entertainment. They don’t want to pay anything up front, so I’ll be gambling that they actually produce the film, but they probably will.

I also have two non-writing goals: Maintain balance in my life and Improve my financial status. I’ve made some progress on those, too, spending time with family, doing a little subbing. I still need to get back into a regular exercise routine. Blocking that in may actually increase my productive writing time. We’ll see how the next quarter goes.Sheri2012RGB2inch

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Affirmations for Writers

Our inner dialogue has enormous impact on how we see ourselves, which in turn is reflected in what we do with our lives. The power of repeating positive affirmations has been documented and if you search “affirmations” you’ll find all kinds of lists of positive affirmations recommended to improve your life.

I wrote here previously about having balance in our lives and how, several years ago, a group of close friends gathered regularly over several weeks to look at where we had been, discern what we wanted in all areas of our lives, and then plan actions to make those things happen. This included an assessment of our strengths, which we each put into a personal affirmation to be repeated daily.

By making the affirmation personal, it has more power than a generic statement that may or may not be a good fit. At least, that’s how it works for me. I know I’ve done serious introspection and discovered these positive things are true about me – I just need to be reminded of them on a regular basis.

There are several good habits I let slip from time to time and this is one of them. I do keep a copy of my affirmations posted on my motivational board, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing them daily. I have to thank Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers for inspiring this blog and a renewal of my affirmation habit.

Hope’s weekly newsletters always have good resources and inspirational messages – I strongly recommend subscribing if you are a serious writer. The one I just read, from 2/16/18, had quotes from Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks about not letting fear make our choices. After reading it, I added two new lines to my daily affirmation:

I make choices in hope.
I plan action with purpose.

These two lines are also personally true, but repeating them daily will help me keep that action moving forward and stifle fear and self-doubt.

Take some time to look at where you’ve been, what you’ve accomplished (small things count), and what skills you’ve developed along the way. It helps to do this with people who know you, for they may see things in you that you’re overlooking. Then decide what you want in all aspects of life as you move forward – a year from now, five years, ten, twenty. Determine what steps you need to take to achieve those goals, look at what skills or attributes you have that will help you get there, and write your personal affirmation.

The time taken for introspection will be balanced out by more effective actions going forward. The few moments daily affirmation takes will focus your energies for the day.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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Looking Forward

Happy New Year!

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions—of course I want to lose weight, exercise regularly, and waste less time on mahjong. In defense of mahjong, it leads to a meditative-type state where I often come up with good ideas. However, so does walking and that’s much healthier for me.

Setting goals is different. I do that every December for the coming year.

Three is a good number: Two personal and one for my writing. The writing goal comes first and involves the most detail. I set a modest dollar amount—a measurable goal that I can reasonably achieve by selling some short stories, by increasing book sales through better promotion and distribution, and by doing self-publishing workshops.

However, having a goal with no plan probably wouldn’t lead to success—and I want to succeed. As I considered what needed to be done, the plan fell naturally into outline form.

I have three objectives for my writing goal. Each requires certain steps be taken and each step requires actions. I’ll probably add actions along the way, but the direction is established.

This is what the outline for the first objective looks like:20171228Goalsfor2018
My modest writing goal does not depend on luck. It depends on planning and sustained effort. Selling scripts or hitting best seller lists with my new novel will involve luck—getting to the right people at the right time. However, the actions I’ll be taking to achieve my modest goal may increase the odds of that luck coming my way, in which case I’ll happily exceed my goal.

Sheri2012RGB2inchwww.sherimcguinn.com
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Looking Back

In 2016, I made a respectable amount of money as a writer. I really wanted to make more this year. Instead, I’ve made virtually none. I felt like a failure, until I saved my “Priorities for 2017” as “Accomplishments for 2017” and edited it to reflect what actually got done this year:

I expanded the number of excellent critique groups with which I’m working on screenwriting, short stories, and novels. That was an essential goal and a major reason for my move to an urban area.

Running Away was shown in French-speaking Europe, then was released as a Lifetime movie.

The screenplay for Michael Dolan McCarthy lost an award, but I used their notes to make revisions. With feedback from two screenwriting groups, I wrote and revised a screenplay based on “Maria Angelica’s Baby” – the short story included in Saturday Evening Post’s anthology in 2016. I submitted both of these to the 15th Annual American Zoetrope Screenplay Contest. Results don’t come out until February. I also wrote a script for Frankie and Grace and submitted that and other scripts to multiple network writer development programs.

With feedback from beta readers, I did revisions of my new novel – the story of Peg, the mother in Running Away. Then I met and traded books with Sarita Sarvate and made major revisions thanks to all of her questions and comments. Peg’s Story: In Search of Self has been submitted multiple places. But in light of current events and the general rule that traditional publishing takes its time, I may decide to self-publish to get it out sooner. The character surprised me when she landed in the arms of a trafficker, but the ups and downs of her journey after that will speak to anyone who says “Me, too.” Goal for 2018: Fund an effective marketing campaign.

I sold books at the Citrus Heights Hidden Treasures Art Show, the Oakland Book Festival, the Gold Country Writer’s booth at the Gold Country Fair, and an author event at Book Passage in Corte Madera put on by the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). I also attended the WNBA Pitch-O-Rama in San Francisco. I sent out a press release after getting a glowing review of Alice and saw a jump in sales of my books at Amazon.

That’s not everything, either. I’ve been tracking submissions and have short stories out all the time. I wrote a script based on one and the actors in the Capital Film Arts Alliance gave it an awesome table read. It may be produced as a trailer when I’m ready to publish a collection of short stories.

I didn’t make much money this year. In fact, after expenses it’ll probably be a loss. My projects didn’t come in first place anywhere and I didn’t get accepted into those writing programs, but I got good feedback from judges. With the input of good critique groups I produced multiple well-written major and minor projects. They’ll eventually be produced or published because tracking submissions and my time has made me more consistent. I’m even posting here weekly.

So while I may not have made much money writing this year, I did accomplish a lot.

The funny thing? In 2016 I did very little writing. The first half I was teaching full time with injuries, the second half I was living in my son’s living room with almost everything buried in storage while I had and recuperated from surgeries on knee and shoulder. The successes and income were from work done previously. So maybe next year…

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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Process

As I understand it, writer’s block is that empty feeling when you sit staring at the screen or paper with no clue what to write. I’ve had that feeling trying to figure out topics for this weekly blog!

But I’m not sure it counts as writer’s block because it doesn’t “block” me. I’m pretty sure my process is the reason I’ve never suffered from writer’s block for more than a few moments, why it’s never really stopped me.

Here are the pieces I think are key:

1. I have given myself permission to not write at any given point in time. It’s okay for me to say “Well, that’s not happening right now,” and move on to another task. There’s no feeling of guilt magnifying the temporary loss of words until it’s paralytic. There’s no time lost because I’m free to move to another project quickly.

2. I have multiple writing projects at all times. Currently, I’m researching what the future may look like so I can write a futuristic novel; I’m pitching a completed women’s novel; I’m pitching screenplays; I’ve started turning a short story into a stage play; I’m working on a self-publishing manual to go with my workshops; I’m writing this weekly blog; and I’m revising short stories with critique groups and pitching them. So if I hit a blank on one project, I can probably make progress on another—I can even spend a day reading for that research or critiquing others’ work, reading instead of writing.

3. I set yearly and weekly goals that include writing, networking, marketing, and other writing-related activities. As long as I’m making progress on any of those goals, I can feel good about the day. If not, I can adjust my weekly plans to make up for the lost time.

4. Sometimes I’ll even take a day off from writing altogether and take care of other areas of my life. That’s okay, too. I’m a writer, and that’s a huge part of me, but it’s not the only part that needs attention and nurturing. The rest supports the writer.

The issue that stopped my writing will still be simmering on a back burner in my brain. I let the pieces fall into place, so I return to the project not only ready to write, but eager.

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Writing Time

There are people with day jobs who get up before dawn to have an hour or two of writing time. They have my admiration. When I was teaching full time, I did not have the energy or focus to do that.

Some people have a set number of pages or words that they write each day. That is also an admirable habit. When I’ve squirreled myself away someplace other than home, I can sustain a goal of 10,000 words per day for a week or so. That means I can crank out the first draft of a novel in that time.

But sustain a daily writing habit with specific goals indefinitely? That is beyond me. Sometimes other things take priority for a day. Between now and Thanksgiving, I need to set aside several days to finish painting the inside of my home, rearranging things to house two extra families for a night or two over that holiday, and a full day to go pick up my granddaughter so we’ll have a week together before everyone else comes. We’re going to work on her book for that week. I might spend a few minutes here and there on activities that support my writing (like keeping up with emails), but it will be incidental. I’ll apply the same focus I give to writing to my family and other projects.

I do have long-range and short-range writing goals and I do track my progress. At the end of each year, I make a list of annual accomplishments. When I feel like I haven’t done enough, I check those and realize I’m really doing a lot. I also make a list of goals for the year ahead, and while I may not work on my writing every single day, I do track progress toward those goals. I tend to be overly optimistic about how much one person can do, but over the last ten years, I’ve usually accomplished most of my annual goals.

While writing every day is can be a good habit, even more important is using your writing time effectively. Whether or not you write daily, set goals for the year and monitor your progress toward those goals regularly. Every Sunday, I evaluate the preceding week in light of my yearly goals and plan the one ahead—including realistically setting aside days when I will focus on other things and not write.

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