Tag Archives: planning

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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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

www.sherimcguinn.com
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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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Reasonable Expectations

My to-do list tends to be insane. At times it’s grown to multiple two-column pages. That may be okay for long range planning or keeping track of little details, but when it’s multiple major projects it can lead to paralysis and a sense of failure because I never get it all done.

I’ve developed something that’s working better.

A couple months ago, I set up a spreadsheet to track the hours I spend on different writing activities. The first column has the categories: writing new material for blogs or promo; writing or revising stories, novels, etc.; research; routine business; new business; networking; critique groups and reading for them; marketing activities; and writing/editing for pay. I estimate how much time I’ll spend on each activity each day and the hours for each activity are totaled for the week. Then I’ll type in the estimate totals in a separate column and erase the daily estimates.

Each day I keep track of how I’m spending my time in a day planner, then enter those times into the chart and compare the actual time spent weekly with the estimates. This gives me a realistic view of how I’m spending my time and whether or not I’m maintaining an effective balance. I also can see when I’m pushing myself too hard or slacking off.

After the first week or two, I added two more columns—one to list what I plan to do in each area, and one to record what actually got done. The to-do list! Because I’d been keeping track of my time, I was able to come up with reasonable estimates for the time needed for similar activities and make this more reasonable.

One or two sixty hour weeks when a project’s near completion is reasonable (for me), but to maintain any kind of life balance, that level cannot be sustained. During the holidays, when family time expanded, the hours I expected myself to work on writing decreased. Since I know I do those sixty hour weeks, it was okay to have some short ones.

Thanks to this system, I’m getting closer to reasonable expectations for each week. My goal is to routinely complete everything planned in the time allotted each week and sometimes do a little more if time allows. Then I’ll feel competent consistently.

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