In light of the upcoming new year, I’ve been talking a lot about success lately. I’ve talked about how to define your success and how to identify the keys to your success. Now that you have an idea of what your success looks like, it’s time to figure out how you’re going to move towards that goal in 2013.
Every writer needs goals. Without goals, you have no idea where you’re going–and no idea what accomplishments to celebrate. But creating your own success–and nobody else is going to do this for you, so it’s crucial you focus on this–doesn’t come from a list of goals chosen at random. It comes from a list that is designed to get you closer to your own definition of success, based on the keys to success that you’ve identified.
For example, if your definition of success is to become a career writer, your keys to success probably include things like selling more articles and publishing books. So your goals in 2013 should help you achieve these things. Make sure, however, that your goals are reasonable and based upon what you can do by yourself. An example of an unreasonable goal is to have your book picked up by a publisher in 2013. This is unreasonable because it relies on other people–instead, your goal should be to submit your novel to at least twelve publishers or agents in 2013. While if you submit the work over and over again your chances of publication go up, you can’t say for sure whether anyone will pick it up by the end of the year–so don’t make your goals reliant on those editors. Focus on what you can do.
That said, if you plan to self publish, a goal of having published one of your novels by the end of the year is probably reasonable. This is because it’s only reliant on you–and the editor and cover designer that you hire, because every writer needs an editor and unless you’re already good at graphic design, creating your own cover means selling yourself short.
Today I’d like you to create a draft of your goals for 2013. First, figure out the steps required to acquire the keys to your success. Then decide which keys to your success are most important right now–what will bring you closest to success in the shortest amount of time? If you’re like me, creating an income stream is probably a big priority right now, so focus on things that will bring the money in sooner.
When creating your list of goals for 2013, it’s also important to think about how much you can reasonably accomplish in a year. Factor in the commitments you already know you’ll have–six hours a day dedicated to school, three hours a week to your writing group–and leave some wiggle room for unexpected crisis and opportunity. You have no idea what’s going to happen next year, so don’t put too much on your list right now. Overloading your list will just make you feel bad when you can’t finish everything–and it’s easy to overestimate yourself. In fact, it’s perfectly natural to overestimate what you can do in a year, because it feels like a long time. That is, it feels like a long time until it’s over, when it suddenly feels as though the year never happened at all.
You’ll notice that I said the goal for today is to create a ‘draft’ of your goals in 2013. This is because, of course, you don’t know the future and everyone has that tendency to overestimate themselves. So don’t treat this as your final list. Instead, think of it as your first draft. Put everything you can think of that you’d like to accomplish on this list. Once you have a list, you can then go through it item by item and decide both how important each thing is and whether or not it’s reasonable to accomplish all those items in a year.
So if your list is three pages long and it already looks overwhelming, don’t despair. You still have time to analyze and edit it or even create an entirely new list before the new year begins. For now, just having a list is the important thing. Spend the next week analyzing your list and thinking about why each goal is there and how long each thing will take to accomplish. Next Friday I’ll share my list with you and explain why each item is on the list and how long I expect it to take.
For now please share your drafted list in the comments below and I’ll help you figure out why each item belongs there and whether or not your list can be reasonably accomplished in a year.
The keys to your success are the stepping stones on your journey. These things are usually the same for anyone pursuing the kind of success you are. For example, a fiction writer’s keys to success includes writing short stories and submitting regularly. A freelance writer’s list might include researching a variety of topics and querying a variety of markets about different articles. While each individual’s goals will be more specific than this because everyone’s exact definition of success is different, the keys to success will be almost identical for people aiming to reach the same career or financial/emotional place in their lives.
Today I’d like you to consider what the keys to your success might be. While the most important thing is to look inward and ask yourself how you will reach your definition of success, it’s also helpful to look at people who have reached the kind of success you want. Learning about people who have walked the path before you and analyzing what steps were most important in their journey to success gives you a good idea of how to set your own goals.
For today’s exercise, though the focus is not on goals. Goals should always be specific, whereas the keys to your success are broader strokes. These are what you will base your goals on, but they are not your actual goals. They are guidelines for your life.
In order to find the keys to success, first ask yourself what the most important steps towards your definition of success would be. Chances are, you already have an idea: get out of debt, start your own business, go back to school, write a novel or a book proposal, etc. Most of the things on the list will be things you’ve been considering doing for a long time, but for one reason or another have been putting off. Circle the ones you think are most important–these are what you’re going to base your list of 2013 goals on–and underline anything you’ve already started doing.
Sometimes the keys to success are not so clear. You might not be sure exactly what you’re going to need to start your dream business. You might have no idea about what really goes into moving up in the corporate world. You might want to be a politician but be unsure how to start your first campaign. That’s perfectly fine–nobody knows everything, and some paths are easier to understand than others.
If you have no idea what you’ll need in order to reach your definition of success, research people who have walked the path before you. As you study people who have reached a definition of success very close to your own–though it will not be exactly the same–the keys to your own success will become clear to you. Pay particular attention to how they got to their most successful, but also to which actions hurt them along the way. Often it’s just as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do.
Once you have a solid list of keys to your success, attach it to the paper with your definition of success. While these exercises are still helpful on the computer, I find that having the physical manifestation helps keep me on the right track. So staple these things together and put them somewhere not only memorable but plainly obvious–on a wall, on top of your computer, wherever you’re sure to see it regularly. This way, success will never be far from your mind–and the closer it is to your mind, the closer you will be to that success.
Earlier this week we went over a few ways to find ideas for your Nanowrimo novel. With any luck you successfully used one of the brainstorming techniques I mentioned on Monday and came up with a few ideas or managed to flesh out an idea you already had.
Today I’d like to help you organize those ideas. While having a mind map or a right brain left brain list is great and either can be used as a basic guide, a linear list of ideas–or a few lists consisting of different categories of ideas–is sometimes more helpful. Personally, my mind maps tend to be horribly disorganized and messy, so I myself will be doing this exercise as soon as I finish writing this post.
First, you need to find a good place to put all these ideas. You can use a folder, a spiral notebook, a binder, and probably a couple things I’ve never heard of. The important thing is that you find something large enough to hold all your ideas and small enough to fit next to your computer in your workspace. I personally keep binders for all my novel length projects. I like binders because it’s easy to put in dividers and keep them organized, and because my binders are big enough that I don’t want to take them everywhere but small enough that I can take them places.
Once you’ve chosen your storage method, it’s time to sort through your ideas. Create categories for plot, world and character on separate pages. With any luck you’ll have had a few ideas about each of these while brainstorming. Create a simple list. For example, your character page might look something like this:
- Young female MC–Potential names: Valtessa, Vamira, Kari.
- Tribal chieftain, MC’s grandfather, needs a name
- Young male MC–Potential names: Kormir, Thorin, Kaldon.
And so on and so forth. Make sure you put every idea you’ve decided to keep into one of these categories, and if you feel the need to create another category, feel free. Simply writing these ideas down into lists will probably give you more ideas–expand the lists as much as you can. The more you know about what you’re going to do with this novel, the easier it will be to write–or to decide how you want to change your approach.
If you’re going all out and creating an intensive plan and world, this is a great time to grab and label some dividers and to make sure your binder’s well stocked with both lined and blank paper. Graph paper is particularly good for anyone looking to create maps. If you’re going to keep it basic, I’d still suggest stocking it with paper in case you find quotes you’d like to include online or decide to take on dares–or make notes to yourself for when you decide to edit the monster. If you decide to edit the monster.
Where do you like to store your ideas?
Every blogger–or other writer who’s actually expected to produce something regularly–should have a plan B for when things hit the fan. Rather than a small white pill, the plan B for a writer should be a back up of writing: a collection of spare blog posts, article drafts, half-finished fanfiction chapters ready to be rounded out at any moment, or whatever else you’re expected to publish on a regular basis.
I haven’t always been the greatest at this. For the last two weeks I’ve missed blog posts due to crisis situations–and because I didn’t have a plan B. I should have had at least three spare blog posts on hand. I didn’t, and therefore my blog sat unloved for a day.
So last week, instead of beating myself up over missing a post, I started creating a plan B. Nevermind that it’s too late for my most recent crisis, it will be helpful in the next one.
Today I’d like to help you create your own plan B. This exercise was designed specifically to help create a backup of blog posts, but with some modifications should be able to fit whatever kind of writing you need it to.
And now, let’s make our plan B:
Step One: Prepare a list of categories. The first thing you should do is write the name of your website/blog at the top of a large piece of paper. Then, every four or five lines down the page, write down a category of potential posts/articles for your blog. For me, these categories include novel planning, revision, character development, and dialogue. List the things that you talk about most often which can be divided into subcategories if you can’t figure out what your proper blog categories are.
Step Two: Brainstorm for each category. Now, in the space between categories, I want you to brainstorm post ideas which fit within each category. For example, when I did this exercise most recently, under revision I had a post about staying motivated through the edits, and under the dialogue section I wrote out a series of writing exercises which I plan on sharing with you later this month. Just put in whatever comes to mind, whatever can be written about each sub-topic.
Once you have each category filled, it’s time to move on to the next step…
Step Three: Give each idea its own space. Depending on the size of the notebook/paper you’re using and how detailed the posts/articles you usually write are, you can give each idea either half a page or a full page. Write each post idea you’ve had in big bold letters over its own section with enough room to brainstorm. Then start figuring out how you’re going to fill in each post. Ask yourself questions: what can I mention to prove my point about this? How can I help my readers learn more about this? How can I get my readers to reach up and out for their goals?
By the end of this exercise you should have a handful–I usually aim for about a dozen–back up blog posts outlined with point-form notes, ready to be made into complete blog posts at a moment’s notice. It’s always a good idea to draft a couple of these posts, too, so that they’re ready and waiting for when your next crisis hits.
Do you have a plan B for when crisis makes it hard to write?
Last summer I participated in twelve weeks of Acting for the Camera workshops. Each workshop we were given cards on which we anonymously wrote some of our more private moments. Dom, the workshop leader, then took the most interesting pieces and had us improvise them. Eventually, we turned some of these moments into scripts and created short films.
Those short films premiered last Saturday. It was pretty awesome seeing how everything came together and how well the films were edited. Today’s prompt is based off of one of those stories:
Write a scene about an awful first date.
As usual, please post the first sentence of your response in the comments.
While I am hoping to use several of these prompts to create standalone flash fiction, writing responses to these prompts from the PoV of one of my novel characters is a really good way to build character. Today I’ve got not only a prompt for you, but a small response to it that I wrote from the PoV (point of view, for those of you who don’t know) of Riana, the main character in Moonshadow’s Guardian.
It’s been thousands of years since I protected Eternia, but I will never forgive myself for failing her.
She was just a little girl the first time we met. I remember her cute smile, her little head all covered in long black hair like a curtain. I remember her parents explaining the politics to me, the threats that made them so afraid for their daughter that they summoned me.
It never occurred to any of us that she would be the murderer.
I remember going to magic lessons with her. She was so powerful that when she was being trained in offensive magic we took her out into the woods, away from anyone she could hurt. I was so proud of her, it was almost like she was my own daughter. She was almost as powerful as me. Sometimes I wondered why they’d summoned me in the first place.
I knew she was powerful, but I had no idea what she was capable of. I spent too much time in the pubs pursuing human lovers. I never saw the darkness growing inside of her heart.
I still don’t know what drove her to it. Nobody ever explained to me. With all the blood, all the bodies she left behind, I knew I’d failed her. I knew that I missed something, that I could have stopped it. Normal girls don’t kill all the guests at their wedding. I knew I failed, but nobody told me how. They just stuck her in limbo and sent me Home to contemplate my sins. I wish I knew.
I still dream about Eternia. I don’t think it will ever stop, not until I know what happened to make her that way.
Today, or sometime this weekend, I would like you to do something completely different–something I’m trying for the first time, too–and write two Dear Diary entries. The interesting part? One will be the character whose diary you’ve already been working on this month, and the other will be a character of your choosing. It doesn’t have to be somebody who will be in the main story you’re working on. It might be more beneficial to you if it can be, because you’ll get more used to their voice as well, but if it’s not plausible at the time you’re writing in, don’t force it.
On this particular day in your character’s life, they’ve met somebody new and intriguing. Have them describe in as much detail as they usually would the moment in which they met this person. Notice the way that your character describes their clothes, and pay particular attention to how they feel about the person and why. You can make the meeting as simple or as complicated as you want. Focus on the emotions of the moment. Don’t forget to have some fun with it.
Then you’re going to write an entry about the exact same meeting from the other character’s point of view. They’ve just met your character for the very first time–how does that character come across? Odds are, what your character thinks about themselves and what other people think of them will be pretty different. Pay attention to what they think of your character and why. It’ll come in handy when writing about them from other PoVs in the future, and when writing interactions between them and other characters in the future.
Have a great weekend, and please share the first sentence from each of these entries.
Today’s Prompt is: Illness
The halls of the Great Temple of Memories were never so quiet as on the day High Priestess Evelyn died. The songs of worship were not sung on that day, seventh day of the seventh month. The priests prayed in silence. The doors of the great temple were not opened that day. The air in the temple hung heavy over the heads of healthy priests.
A young girl carried an iron kettle in one hand and a clay mug in the other. She wore black today instead of the colour of her Goddess. Today was not an ordinary day. Today was a day of mourning. She walked quietly in padded slippers down the huge halls. It was said this place was built by giants. She could believe that if she looked up and thought about how far away the ceiling was.
At the very end of this hall there was a green door. On the door in elegant black lettering were the words ‘High Priestess’. The girl did not need to knock; the door opened of its own accord to let her through.
The room that she walked into was fairly large. The walls were light green contrasted against dark mahogany furniture. There was an elegant desk in one corner with a red arm chair sitting next to it, a wardrobe in another corner, and in the centre of the room there was a huge four poster bed. On either side of the bed were a little tea table and a little chair. The windows behind the bed were closed and the curtains drawn over them.
In the bed there was a woman, a very old woman with braided silver hair and unseeing blue eyes. She smiled as the girl put the kettle down and then the cup.
“It is nice to see you still care,” the woman said.
“We all still care,” the girl said.
“Perhaps. But no amount of caring can save me.”
“Do not speak that way, Mistress Evelyn,” the girl said, pouring the tea into the cup. “I have brought you tea.”
“I am going to die, child. I have lived a good life. It is fine.” The woman took the tea and sipped at it. “Ah, rose tea; my favourite. Thank you.”
“You do not have to die today-”
“If I do not die today, I shall live only to die tomorrow.” The woman put her tea down.
“You can live yet.”
“No; I have summoned you here so that I might have a friend by my side when I die. Do not try to stop me; if I wanted more life, I would seek a healer.”
“Mistress…” the girl took the old woman’s hand.
“Listen to me,” the old woman said, looking at her, “when I am gone, follow the river to its widest point. Choose carefully which of its paths to follow, and along that path you shall find your queen.”
“Do not question. Just go.”
Evelyn’s eyes closed and her chest sank. The girl buried her head in the dead woman’s shoulder and sobbed ever so quietly.
Today’s exercise is very important but shouldn’t take too long. There is no recommended reading today, but I’d highly recommend looking through some of Limyaael’s Fantasy Rants.
Conflict is the thing that drives your story. It is your character trying to overcome obstacles. Conflict can be man/nature, man/other man, man/woman, or man/himself. The best stories have multiple layers of conflict and tension between characters, and between characters and their environment. Today you’re going to figure out the conflict behind your plot.
Remember that this is largely a brainstorming exercise. Don’t be afraid to branch off in different directions and follow your line of thought to its natural conclusion. These questions should help you figure out your plot.
1. Who is your main character? What is their main goal? Your character must desire something or be trying to achieve something. Everybody has goals, wants, desires. The main goal of your character should be a central focus of the story. My character Marla’s main goals are escaping the Queen’s grasp, finding Logan after they are separated, and restoring her family name’s honour. These goals pretty much make up the story.
2. What stands between your character and achieving their goal? How difficult is it for them to get what they want? Make this a point form list of notes. List anything that you can think of that could stop them from achieving their goal. Think about which options are most plausible, which ones have the most possibility of conflict, and which ones are most interesting. Pick three or four of your favourites.
The villain can be listed here, but there’s more about that.
3. Who is your villain? What is their main goal? Your villain is just as important as your main character. Does their goal clash with the main character’s? If so, how do their goals clash? Is it planned or accidental? Is your villain looking for a fight?
4. What stands between the villain and their goal? If the villain’s goal is to have the hero killed, for example, how does the villain intend to do that? What is stopping them? Is your character highly skilled in battle? Do they have friends protecting them? Is your character actively standing against your villain? If so, why?
5. What other conflicts will be going on? Are there outside conflicts that have some effect on your character? There could be a war going on around them without them being directly involved, for example. How do these conflicts change your character? Will other characters come into conflict with your main character? What kind of conflicts can you see your main character getting into?
My character Marla will come into direct conflict with several characters throughout the story, mostly the Queen and her family. Logan, her best friend, will also come into conflict with a lot of characters-partially defending Marla. They’ll probably also face some nasty creatures in the woods.
Write 1, 000 words about a character’s first kiss, either your main character or a very important side character.