Set Goals for Good Intentions

The new year is upon us. Have you set your resolutions yet? I hate resolutions. Declaring your purpose for the new year doesn’t make it happen. I resolve to lose weight, exercise more, and get more done, but without a plan my enthusiasm waivers and I find myself drowning in my own resolve.

About a decade ago affirmations and intentions were the latest thing at the new year. Both are more positive. You state that you will do something like trim down, incorporate diet and exercise into a healthier lifestyle, and organize to achieve more. While positive and presented with the mood that we all have the power to make these intentions happen, again, enthusiasm waivers and the positive crumbles into negative inaction. Before long I’m beating myself up for blatant laziness. Not exactly positive and affirming. So, I like to focus on goals. Some creative people freeze up at the thought of setting goals. It’s so . . . business oriented. If you fall into this category, think of goals as stepping stones toward achieving your dream.

Like task management, goals take the bigger picture and break it into manageable pieces. Each smaller task or goal leads to accomplishing the bigger task. Many of us do this without realizing it—during the holidays, for instance. In order to get those holiday cards in the mail, there are steps involved. You need to create the list of people you’ll send them to, make labels (or address the envelopes), write notes and/or sign each card, stuff the envelopes, stamp, and drop at the post office. Each step might be done in 5- to 15-minute segments as your schedule allows. In the end, the cards are in the mail and on their way.

Goal-setting is the same. Set a goal, a time frame for achieving it, and then create action steps (or small goals that lead the to larger goal). Use S-A-M as a guideline. The goal should be specific. Select a target and set a deadline such as trimming 2 inches off your waist by summer, losing 15 pounds, or sending out 20 manuscripts by December. It should be achievable. This means you need to make it happen; you cannot rely on what someone else does as a step in the process (such as an editor accepting just 1 manuscript to launch your career). You need to find an exercise you enjoy doing if you are going to trim 2 inches off your waist. You will need to write a manuscript in order to reach that goal of submitting 20.  Finally, your goal needs to be measurable. Notice that these three goals include a specific number. This helps you track your progress as the year progresses.

I had a writing friend who decided to set of goal of receiving 10 rejections in a year. She was working to fit writing into a busy life as a mother, wife, and office manager. She had heard me speak and a comment I made about taking the plunge and getting over the fear of submitting really struck her. She knew that manuscripts left in a drawer would never become books. Setting a goal to get rejected took away her fear of rejection. It is part of a writer’s life after all. Her goal was specific and measurable. She knew she had to send out a MS a month to reach that goal. That was achievable given her busy life.

When the first MS was returned, the sting of rejection wasn’t so bad. She sent it out again. And again. She had nearly reached her goal by summer when she received an acceptance. Then a second. Now she was forced to write new material in order to reach her goal. She did. But she also had credits to list when sending out those new MSS. By the next year, she was ready to “play it again, SAM” in setting new goals. No floundering in good intentions or vague resolutions. Just specific, achievable, and measurable goals with action steps toward reaching them.

Here’s wishing you all a happy and productive 2012!

Out of Character

This morning I saw something unusual. Something unbelievable. It lasted only about two minutes, yet I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. I watched a duck, one of those large and ugly Muscovy ducks, land in a white pine outside my lanai.
It was absurd. I usually watch squirrels and woodpeckers in this tree. But this huge bird tried to go where it is not designed to go. I watched this duck gingerly step across the branch, its webbed feet awkward on the bough. It looked up into the pine needles and nearly lost its balance. It looked down along the bark, moving cautiously, like a human walking a tightrope. It inched along the limb until its own weight caused the tree limb to bend and the poor duck fell. Instinct caused it to extend wings but it was surrounded by pine cones, needles, and tree limbs. So it made quite a racket as it crashed through the lower branches until it was able to fly away.
I wonder what caused this duck to attempt to waddle on webbed feet through the treetops? I sat in disbelief by what I’d seen. There was a lesson behind it, brief though the observation was.
This is must be how the reader feels when we ask our characters to act outside their nature. We  create our characters and so know (or should know anyway) what makes them tick. When we drop them into a tree (or some other scene or situation in which they do not belong) it sticks out for the reader, much like this duck distracted me from what I’d been doing. I had to stop and watch this absurdity play out.
In our stories, though, the reader may not watch in disbelief, rubbing his or her eyes and wondering, “Am I seeing things?” The reader may drop the story in disappointment, feeling let down by the writer. “Does he really think I’m an idiot to believe this would happen next?” “Where did this timid character suddenly find such courage?”
Its okay to challenge a character, to give him or her flaws. These make the character real, just as real people face unusual circumstances and learn and grow from them. But remember to play fair. You created the characters after all, so you should know how they will each act and react in a given situation. Dropping them into conflict just to stir things up doesn’t help the story–or endear the reader to you or your characters.

Sprawling Among Worlds

Wow! It’s been such a long time since I’ve posted. But I still managed to find time to work on my projects. Not a lot of progress, but a few revelations and plot twists. The problem’s been that though I have written whatever scenes have come to me, they haven’t always been for the same project.
For instance, I’ve discovered how a homeless character survives during the heat of summer and how another character plans to stand up to her mother. I’ve explored the streets of 19th century New York City with yet another character. I’ve also been to a strange and sandy planet with two science fiction characters and have flown over ancient ruins (and across that world’s time) on dragon back. I even found myself in the mind of a character who writes horror. (This new short story came to me on Christmas Eve.)
I guess these bits and glimpses of stories shouldn’t surprise me; I’ve been stretched out among various teaching locations all autumn and have gotten used to focusing on one and then switching gears to prep for another group, venue, and age group. As busy as it was, I came  to thrive on the different group dynamics so it seems I would also enjoy the variety among my various writing projects and the different worlds each presents.
Still, I’ll take this progress over none at all.  Whether writing or teaching, neither feels like work. For that I am grateful and plan to continue “sprawling.” 

Gift of Time

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

I cannot believe it’s nearly the end of another year. I’m grateful I survived the past four months. That’s how crazy this autumn has been! I’m looking forward to ringing in a new year, though I cannot say that the busyness of the fall semester has been all bad. (I’m anticipating a lot of good things to come out of all the effort.)

Still, it’s been so long since I’ve had a chance to post on either blog that I can barely navigate my way through the dashboards! I have managed to croak out a tweet or two and post hurried statuses on FB,  but truly, how sad is that?

Though I’m only halfway through my online training for this new course I’ll be teaching, I decided I needed to give myself a holiday gift:  down time! I plan to read, refill the creative well, and write some of the scenes and story bits that have been fogging my dreams. The training and prep for the new semester can wait a week; allowing myself some needed time cannot.

Here’s wishing each of you a merry holiday and a safe and peaceful new year! (And, consider gifting yourself a little time. It’s free!)

Last Lap in the Holiday Dash

The deadline is here! It’s crunch time in the parking lots and around the stores. I’m so glad I’m done with the holiday dash. Our family celebrated last weekend so I was a crazy person just one week ago.

Still, I created my own holiday deadline stress: I was determined to sort out a Christmas lights issue. I solved it and cannot wait for dark so I can bask in the silvery glow of lights on my lanai.

During Thanksgiving weekend I finally found clips that would allow me to hang lights on my lanai. I was so happy! This is my fourth Christmas here and every attempt to hang lights was disappointing when clips and lights all collapsed. This year the clips worked.

The lights are still up but after four nights all but one string went dark. I’ve messed around with them without luck and had finally given up. After catching up on sleep, I decided to try once more.

It worked! I have lights! I’m so happy, especially because I made the “Christmas deadline.” Yeah! Such a simple thing to bring such joy.