Tag Archives: goals

Oatmeal Brain: Writer’s Post-Race Blues

It’s possible I’ll be asked to do a few more tweaks, but the screenplay I contracted to complete has gone through two major revisions and they seem to be happy with it at this point. It was fun developing someone else’s idea. I really liked my first draft. It had this third wheel character that offered some comic relief in a tense TV movie. But they wanted him combined with the romantic lead, so I had to toss him.

Once I put aside my attachment to the character and looked at it as a challenge, I figured out a way to move a bit of the humor to the romantic lead. Of course, the script will change again once it goes into production, but that’s the way screenwriting works. I just read a lengthy interview with Terry Rossio that addresses that reality.

At the end of this major project, my brain’s functioning like oatmeal – nutritional, good content, but thick and sticky. Ideas pour slowly in globs.

Oatmeal brain: the writer’s version of post-race blues. It’s time to reboot.

To start, I took a look at my 2018 Goals and the steps I planned to meet them. If you’ve been following this blog, you realize I write all this stuff out at the beginning of the year and post it where it’s easy to access. My writing goal for 2018 is to make at least $10,000 writing. I came up with three objectives to help me meet this goal. The activities for my first objective revolve around getting Peg’s Story: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Herself polished, promoted, and published. The second objective’s about continuing to create new material and the third is about doing workshops on self-publishing.

Well, the screenplay wasn’t on my radar and, as long as they produce it this summer as planned, I’ll have met my goal without completing any of the written objectives.

I also have an author client I’m helping in multiple areas, which is adding to my income. And I’m doing volunteer work on promo for Who Will Remember. None of that was written into the plan either. I’ll keep devoting a few hours a week to these activities.

However, going back to the plan, I want to get that book out, I want to continue creating new material because that’s energizing, and I have three workshops scheduled – the first one at the end of June! My class is listed on page 6 of the catalog.

Fortunately, much of the preparation for the workshops overlaps with research I need to do to launch the book, so that research is the next primary focus. Writing new material will be my fun time.

I was surprised to see my personal (non-writing) goals are doing okay. I’ve completed activities under almost every objective. That’s pretty amazing. It felt like I was getting completely absorbed by my writing activities, until I looked at things in black and white. In reality, I’ve done a lot with family this year already, including some short trips.

Life is good.

Sheri2012RGB2inch

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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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Curves in the Road

At sixteen my plan was to spend my senior year of high school as an exchange student, then go to Northwestern for journalism and become an international reporter. I’d make the world a better place and have adventures at the same time. I was on that road. I was editor of my school paper and studying both French and Spanish. I joined AFS and met exchange students from all over the world. I brought home the application.

But my mother had been a stay-at-home mom for almost forty years and she wasn’t ready for an empty nest, so she insisted I could wait and go abroad while I was in college. That last year of high school, there were few academic courses left for me to take. Instead, my interest in art, music, and drama, which had been largely dormant for two years, came back full force. I never even applied to Northwestern.

The killings at Kent State, a month before my high school graduation, did nothing to change my mind. The paranoia of the day seeped into me. Publication of the Pentagon Papers could have inspired a renewal of my interest in journalism, but instead the content increased my detachment from world events. Then Watergate filled the television and my first choice for president was a crook or the man he’d made look like a buffoon. I did a write-in vote for “No Body” and wanted nothing to do with any of it.

I just wanted to live my life.

It’s a good way to live, focused on immediate surroundings, the things where you may make a real difference in lives, one at a time, or one small community at a time. And that is one way to change the world without taking on the big issues.

Looking back, there have been many other roads not taken, some of which might have brought me back closer to my original intent. It’s okay I didn’t take those roads. There have been rough spots, but overall, life has been full and interesting and right now it’s really good. I’m writing fiction full of strong women, providing good role models. . .but, every so often, I wonder if I’m playing hooky from another destiny.

A few weeks ago, I bought the January 15, 2018 Time because it was supposed to be a good news edition, edited by Bill Gates. This morning it got to the top of the reading pile. In it, there’s an article by Melinda Gates about how women’s movements around the world are bringing about significant changes not just for the betterment of women, but for society as a whole. She advocates for an increase in financial support for grassroots women’s organizations and women’s funds.

The article makes me feel as if there’s more I need to do.

It could be a diversion from projects already in place, to avoid completion. I need to guard against that temptation. But I suspect the road I’m on is curving and will eventually intersect with the one not taken long ago.

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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Balance

Balance is essential to our well-being.

At this point in my life, I’m spending forty to sixty hours a week on writing and related activities. It’s my primary focus. Last year, health had to be my primary focus, as I went through injuries, surgery, and recovery. Writing was still part of the balance, but I couldn’t devote this much time to it!

I know, however much time I’m devoting to writing, all the areas of my life must be nurtured as well. Not only does it keep me healthy and happy, it makes me more productive as a writer and as a human being.

Six years ago, a group of my friends gathered on a regular basis to do exercises designed to help us take a close look at our priorities in life. Only after we had decided what was important to us did we go on to establish goals in all areas of our lives.

I revisit all of those priorities and goals every year, not just those about writing. This helps me maintain a healthy balance in my life and make progress to the things I want in the long run. The areas of life we examined are: people, things, spiritual, feelings, and activities. What is important to you in each of these areas?

  • People: Who are the people important to you? How do you want those relationships to look? What do you need to do to establish or nurture those relationships?
  • Things: What things are important to you? What do you need to do to maintain those things you have and get the ones you want?
  • Spiritual: How do you nurture your spiritual self? How can you make sure this is not neglected?
  • Feelings: What feelings do you want to have more often? What feelings to you want to avoid? For each: what can you do about it?
  • Activities: What activities are important to you? Keep the previous priorities in mind as you make this list—there should be considerable overlap.

Sometimes life throws crises or opportunities at you and you give one area or another more time than usual. However, if you remember to allow some time for the other areas, you’ll feel better and keep making progress toward your long-range goals—and you’ll be ready to get right back into a more balanced lifestyle when the crisis has passed or the opportunity is complete.

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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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