Goal setting

  1. By the end of March I will finish my second draft of my novel.

Flipping through my notebooks I find goals like these plastered everywhere.  Goals are not dreams or wishes, they are targets for action plans. If you’ve read any literature at all on the subject, you know that writing down goals makes it more likely you will succeed, and that goals should follow the “S.M.A.R.T.” strategy- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and on a Timeline.  The other commonly described goal is the stretch goal, which is described as a goal that seems out of reach but isn’t completely impossible.

“Yeah, yeah yeah, Jane,” you say.  “Goals.  I had goals, but I didn’t achieve them, life got in the way.”

Ok, go look at those goals now.  Evaluate them.

Ask yourself a few questions.
  • Did you make any progress toward your goal?
  • Did you encourage or reward yourself for taking action on this goal?
  • Was this goal given to you from the outside world?
  • Are you still the same person who wanted these goals?
  • What will happen if you let go of this goal?  Any negative consequences?
  • Do you want to make a whole-hearted commitment to trying again?
  • Do you want to make a different goal instead?
  • What tripped you up the most in trying to achieve the goal- scheduling, motivation, fear, other people, unfortunate events?
  • Is there anything you can change to make this goal easier?
  • Did you break it down into smaller chunks?

Ok, now make some new goals.  Here are the rules- the goals must be something you are willing to commit to, that you have reasonable amount of time to complete, that don’t involve other people giving you approval or permission, and that will give you satisfaction and enjoyment in working towards them (not just achieving them).

Now, think about how to achieve those goals.  What are the obstacles- do you have solutions to overcome them, a “plan b” when things go wrong?  What are you going to do to encourage yourself?  How can you get support from loved ones?  Do you have the tools and space you need to start?

Share your goals with people you trust to encourage you.  Get to it!


649718I’m reading Secret Societies: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Organizations by John Lawrence Reynolds to help me develop my own evil organization for my story.  I recommend this book- I’m not usually a fan of history books, but this one was fascinating.  It covers the league of assassins, Templars, Illuminati, the Priory of Scion and Freemasons, explores the myths behind Kabbalah, Wicca and Rosicrucians, and explains the origins and organizational structure of Triads, Cosa Nostra, and Yakuza.

I’m most interested in how they develop and what methods they use to find and bind members to their cause.  The Assassins used elaborate staging to make members think they’d died and gone to paradise so they could “come back from the dead” and recount what they saw.  The Yakuza punish members by making them cut off their own pinky finger (which is needed for master swordsmen).

Reynolds also talked about how many organizations became secretive to avoid prosecution, but that very secrecy made it easy for their enemies to make up stories about their practices, such as claiming early Christians ate babies.

I’m coming up with a name for the group in my story.  They were established to protect cultures from outside influence and contamination from other worlds, but over the years they’ve built up rituals, beliefs and  practices that will lead them to try to destroy the connections between worlds, even though that will sever their communication to each other.  I started out with “the Order” but I don’t want to look like I’m copying Star Wars.

Here’s some possible secret organization names:
  • Oathbound
  • the Pact
  • Lock
  • Wall Guard
  • Protectorate
  • Portas
  • Alliance
  • Guild of Smiths
  • Borders Union
  • Cleaners
  • 21
  • Council of Order
  • Venn Diagram
  • Root and Leafhailhydra

Hail Hydra. 😉


April 17, 2016

e7948dbfec4c04117327f52d819ba94a(art by Luke Carvill

Fighting Despair When You’re Not Selling or Getting Acceptances

The next person who tries to comfort me by telling me Van Gogh only sold one picture in his lifetime will get an ear in the mail.  He is not my role model.  I love my family and friends and their warm, loving support, but it is not the same as commercial success or peer recognition.

I want to be paid for what I write.  This is not to say I am in it for the money, or have unrealistic expectations of success.  I just want to sell my self-published works to strangers, and I want an agent to be interested enough in my manuscript to want to represent it.  I want a publisher to accept my novel.  My goal is to have enough earnings to pay for a nice vacation.

Creativity for its own sake is an enjoyable hobby.  I have no interest in starting a craft business for sewing or paper arts.  While I share my creations on this blog, it’s not in hopes of finding a patron of the arts to put me in a gallery.  Nope, just “hey, look at this, it was fun to make.”

For me, writing is different.  While it is fun, it is also connected with my hopes and dreams.  It is hard to keep pushing along, especially with the hard, serious stuff of revision, without knowing that a goal is attainable.  It is difficult to receive rejection after rejection and still believe that you can be published, that maybe your next work will have readers.  It is nearly impossible to keep your ego out of the equation, and to keep writing with confidence.  Your brain wants to avoid pain, and if you start associating pain with your goals, you hit resistance.  Instead of writing, I’m cleaning, watching tv, surfing the internet, starting a craft project, reading, arguing with people inside my head or thinking about work.  It’s like trying to put magnets together the wrong way.  Part of me is straining to reach my project while  another part is shoving away with all my strength.

Strategies for Fighting Writer’s Block
  • have an established writing time every day, and don’t do anything else during that time (turn off internet, block other distractions)
  • read books about writing
  • research topic you are writing about
  • break large goal into smaller goals, and reward progress
  • write for one person, either imaginary or someone you know, as your target audience
  • join a writer’s group and get feedback
  • make a game out of sending out queries to agents
  • make your writing spot a pleasant place to be, and only do writing there
  • find a role model who’s done what you want to accomplish
  • keep finding ways to push past the resistance

Any of you having the same struggle?  What keeps you going?


10 Recommended Books to Help Your Creativity

  1. The Artist’s Way By Julia Cameron.  A classic, talking about coaxing out the battered, gun-shy artist from within, using artist dates, morning pages and supportive people.
  2. No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty.  The NaNoWriMo creator who sparked a world-wide phenomenon that has inspired thousands.  The concept?  Write 50,00 words in a month.  Because you can.
  3. Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  A year in the life of a woman pursuing happiness.
  4. The As If Principle: The Radically New Approach to Changing Your Life by Richard Wiseman.  Scientific studies that pretending can actually lead to success.
  5. I know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam.  Stop saying “I’m too busy” and buying into the cult of overwhelm.  There is time in the day to do what you love.
  6. Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon.  Nothing is truly original, and that’s ok.  It’s more than ok, it’s wonderful.
  7. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I need to go back and read this again, a dreamy exploration of creativity and writing.
  8. Wishcraft by Barbara Sher.  How to figure out exactly what you want and make goals.
  9. You are a Badass by Jen Sincere.  You are.
  10. Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins.  I almost didn’t write this one down, the author is controversial, but I listened to his motivational tapes through the 90’s and I still use some of his ideas daily.
  11. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi.  I admit, I’ve never actually read this influential work, but I swear, every self-help book written in the past fifteen years mentions him (I listen to a lot of books in audio, and the poor authors struggle so with his name.  “knee high chick sit me high” is what it usually sounds like).

What books would you recommend for a struggling creative person?

construction signStarting a Creativity Support Group

In Felicia Day’s memoir, “You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Mostly)” she talks about joining a creativity support group.  She kept coming to the meetings with nothing to show, until she finally started a project so that she wouldn’t show up empty handed.  That project was The Guild, a highly successful web-based show, one that allowed her to express her creativity fully.

My friends and I have started a creativity support group, that we are calling the Inspirators. We have a game designer, artists, writers, a meme creator and cake designer.  We set up a Facebook Group and we also meet in person.  We are a support and accountability group, encouraging each other to keep creating.  Members tell us a project they are working on, and then we determine what the next step is.  Then we know what to ask about, to encourage and nudge them.  While members can exchange work for critique, that is a secondary function.  We also share knowledge, resources and ideas.  I’ve read about creativity and goal groups in several excellent books (The Artist’s Way, Wishcraft,  and The Happiness Project)

For myself, I’ve put my other projects on the back burner while I work on NaNoWriMo.  This year I’m going back to the first novel I ever wrote and rewriting it.  I have discovered that it is awful.  I’m hoping that’s a good sign, that I’ve gotten better as a writer since then and rewriting it will be a good exercise.


July 18, 2015

Write Right Herecoffee

I’m working on revising a rough draft of a novel.  I have a skeleton there, but there is a long, hard way to go. I look at the mess and wonder if I’ll ever make it, if I’m wasting my time.  I took a break and saw a pretty picture of a coffee drink, and started dreaming about writing places.

I want to write in a quiet cafe with wood-paneled walls, leather cushioned booths and intriguing pictures on the walls.  I’d have a latte with a design swirled in the foam, and an almond pastry.  A stranger walks by and says “It’s unfortunate she found that,” and I’m off and running.

I want to write at a picnic table in the woods, in view of a lake where I’d just gone kayaking.  The warm wind ruffling the leaves of the trees overhead would join together with birdsong as a quiet background noise.

I want to write in a room at the top of a tower, with a large window looking out over a valley.  My broad oak desk is full of interesting knickknacks, and a nearby wall has a bulletin board full of inspiration pictures.  I stretch, climbing circular stone stairs to the roof access, and out in the wind, I watch the sun set.  The solution to my character’s development comes to me, and go back in to write some more.

I want to write in a shady pavilion on the beach, sitting in a sling chair.  The waves hit the white sands with a soothing roar and the scent of salt water is refreshing.  I have a frozen lemonade at a little table next to me, and I promise myself a nice swim if I get this chapter down.

I want to write in a cottage in a big easy chair next to a fire, with snow drifting by the window.  The air is chill, but I have a blanket over my lap and a cat curled up next to me.

I want to write on a sleeper train, late at night, listening to the clatter of the tracks and imagining a complicated murder mystery involving a lost letter and a secret engagement.  The train is taking me to a city to explore with my friends and family, and I am excited for the adventure awaiting me.

I want to write at a Sci-Fi convention, collaborating with several friends.  We work silently for a while, writing with a frenzied focus as people in costumes walk by our table.  Then we share ideas, tweaking and rearranging the plot of a shared story.  Someone asks to join us and we are delighted to work with a well-known fantasy author who shares her insight and experience.

I want to write in a fancy resort with a balcony overlooking mountains.  There’s no need for me to pause my writing for cooking or cleaning, since I have meals delivered and a maid coming in every morning.  When I need inspiration I go out on a hike.

I want to write in a library, but not just any library.  The ones I see in librarian magazines, with beautiful architecture, comfortable furniture and quiet nooks.  A library of massive size but designed to welcome readers of all types.

I want to write in a secret room of a mansion, a windowless hidey-hole accessed by a staircase behind a false bookshelf.  The little room is full of cleverly designed storage, and the desk has plenty of light.  I feel snug and safe.

Where I am is not that terrible.  I’m sitting in a comfortable chair, watching the sun set through our window, the dying light illuminating the piles of books, toys and dishes on the coffee table, the figurines and pieces of the Heroscape game spread out all over the floor.  The dog walks up and casually punches me with his paw, asking for attention.  My son comes in and wants help getting ice cream.  My daughter comes in and wants help designing a creature for a story of her own.  The fish tank burbles.  Explosions and screams from the tv come from the other room.  The doves cry.  Now the dog is staring at me with sad eyes, his head on my knee.

Not bad, actually.  I want to write here.


April 18, 2015

spine poems

In honor of poetry month, create a “found” poem by stacking books.  This is a great and easy display for a library, and a mind-stretching exercise for writers and other creative types.  Try to use spines that are easy to read from a distance, and don’t have the author’s name hogging too much space. There are some great examples at 100 Scope Notes and Pinterest.

spine poetry 2

March 7, 2015

griffin smallWriting Progress

I’ve set aside my Librarian Craft project to focus on my second draft of a fantasy novel called “Other People’s Magic”.  It was a tangled mess, as I had somehow shuffled four chapters.  With the help of my writer’s group, I’m deciding what to keep, what to get rid of, and what to change.  Feedback is really helpful, as I was allowing my character to wander around encountering magical things instead of having an urgent goal.  I’m cranking up the tension while trying to keep the playfulness and sense of wonder.

The hardest part of writing is not getting distracted by the internet, housework, reading, tv, children, husband, friends, family, work….ok, mostly the internet.

seekingclaritycover2 small


My ebook, Seeking Clarity, is now available to purchase at Smashwords, Barnes and Noble,  Kobo, and more.  Lucy meets Jack, a burnt-out dream-seller hiding from the world, and together they must stop the King of Dreams from putting the world into permanent sleep.  The key to the puzzle is Clarity, but who is she and how will she shape the future Jack and Lucy are hurtling toward?


December 6, 2014

Get Input on Your Art

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” – Stephen King

If you are creating for the joy of making things, then you don’t need this advice.  Everyone else, which includes people making gifts, selling crafts or submitting work, needs to get feedback.

17331349To paraphrase from the book Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, imagine prehistoric people trying to figure out how to make bread.  How would they decide what ingredients to put in, how much, cooked how long- if they were not allowed to cook and eat the bread?  There was probably a lot of bad bread before they got it right.

Feedback can be intimidating.  It would be nice to keep your work of art protected from the judgement of the outside.  Hearing that the project you worked day and night on for months or years needs work is frustrating and disheartening.  The artist herself can be blind to her flaws, or only see the flaws, or in my case, rapidly fluctuate between those two states.

Often the feedback is not what you want to hear.  My friend Sandra from Quigley’s Cakes was telling me about the feedback she was getting.  “I’m making all these wonderful flavors for my holiday cupcakes- eggnog, peppermint mocha, gingerbread- but the customers gravitate towards the cute designs in plain chocolate or vanilla!”  Her cute designs include snowmen, reindeer, and a Santa in a snowbank that is freaking adorable.1513832_10203223469888017_2004381623091161091_n

So she takes the feedback and makes more “cute” cupcakes.  But she also keeps making the flavored cupcakes, and makes some of the cute ones in the more unique flavors.  This might lead to repeat business, where the customer bought a cute one and now wants a special flavor.  Or maybe she will sell a majority of cute but plain flavored cupcakes and will never sell a lot of flavored ones.  Her friends certainly give her feedback on those ones for gifts!

I am seeking feedback for my writing.  I have joined Scribophile, which was promoted by National Novel Writing Month (winners get two premium months).  It’s a credit based system where you do 4-5 writing critiques to get a critique of a chapter of your own work. I’ve earned the points and now I have to put a chapter in.  NaNoWriMo is also a good resource for getting feedback- they have a forum called “novel swap” where you read someone’s novel in exchange for them reading yours.  I’ve connected with three people who will look over my raw rough draft I just finished, searching for giant plot holes, character inconsistencies and late night insanity writing.

There are works of writing I did for myself, and I’m not getting feedback on those- well, actually, if I wrote it for myself, I am giving myself feedback…


Imagine the worst

In some writing book I read, I don’t remember which one, it advised to think of the worst possible thing to do to a character, and then do it.  I have realized that this advice is not working for me.  What’s the worse thing that could happen to my characters who are solving a murder?  They never solve it.  They give up.  They all die horribly.  I don’t think that’s what the writing advisor meant.  He (or she) meant that I should add conflict.  Stories with minimal conflict are lifeless, dull things.  I find I need to do that.  I just formed a team of very different characters in what could be a lively buddy cop type of situation, and they are all getting along and agreeing with all the decisions of their leader.  Blah.  That’s a fantasy of a different kind.  People are irritating, and people seldom agree with each other about everything.  I should get inspiration from trying to clean the house with my family.  We love each other dearly, but our arguments are ludicrous.

Just a few minutes ago, I ended a disagreement with my daughter (about the fact that a box of something does not equal a serving) by yelling “I didn’t pay for an argument!”  Then I sat down and wrote a scene where all the leader’s team told her how wonderful she was and that they would do what she said.  Hmmm.

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