Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Set Writing Goals for 2009

We all have dreams. But how do you achieve them without a plan? That's where goals come in. And a new year is a great time to put your plans into action.

Set Your Goals
Most of us are not full-time fiction writers. We have work, family, and a buffet of other demands and responsibilities. So be reasonable. Set goals for yourself that you can actually reach. Think about your other, more important responsibilities and set goals that work with those limits, not against them. When you work with the time and energy that you do have, you'll be more likely to succeed.

Here are some goals that I came up with:

Start and finish a book
Finish a book you've already started
Write everyday for at least a few minutes
Write the rough draft of 12 short stories
Complete two short stories (revisions and all)
Write one piece a month that takes you out of your comfort zone
Write in an unfamiliar medium (for example, a play)
Write in a genre you've never written in before
Take one piece you started in 2008 and finish it
Fill one notebook, front to back, by December 2009

Some are more challenging (starting and finishing a book), others quite attainable for almost anyone (finishing one piece from 2008). Work with your circumstances and you will attain your goals.

Create a Plan
Pull out your notebook or open your word processor. What is your long-term goal or dream as a writer? Write it down at the top. With that in mind, what small steps can you take in the next 12 months that will get you closer to that dream?

For example, your dream might be to get a book published. The first short-term goal might be to get ideas for the book (see "Six Ways to Get Ideas"). Break that goal into writing regularly, using prompts and exercises (see "Get Writing With Prompts"), and brainstorming (see "Brainstorm Away With These Three Fun Techniques") to generate ideas. Once you have the idea (you've met goal one!), the next goal might be to explore it, do some more brainstorming, and really flesh it out. If you're an outliner, that might be a goal. Then, you might plan to write x amount of words or pages by the end of the year. Break that down by month, week, and day and you have a perfectly achievable goal.

Stick With the Plan
Hold yourself accountable. Make an attractive chart for each week or month to post on your fridge or bulletin board. Give yourself gold stars (or another fun shape) for each goal you achieve. Reward yourself when you achieve short-term goals: buy a book (better yet, get one free from the library), cozy up with a good novel, or splurge on a caramel macchiato. Whatever butters your muffin. Most importantly, when you miss a day of writing or don't quite make a deadline on a goal, don't throw out the chart. You can always make things up and start over. It doesn't mean you've blown the whole year.

So set your goals, create a plan, and stick with it. Your best year for writing is just a few days away.

Get Writing!
1) Set your writing goals for 2009. 2) Create a plan with short-term goals that will help you reach your main goal. 3) Think of rewards that will remind and help you as you reach for your goal.

What are your writing goals for 2009? What will you do to reach them?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dreams and Writing Ideas

Do you write down your dreams? Because dreams can be so random, they can be full of story potential. While flipping through an older notebook, I found a ton of dreams I'd recorded, which inspired this blog entry.

The next time you remember an intriguing dream, write it down immediately, including every detail you can recall. A while ago, I had a dream about evil fairies who captured me and kept me imprisoned on a ship that sailed on the power of their wings. There was an entire fleet of these airborn ships. I wish I could remember everything as it was in the dream but I had enough to write down. I haven't used it yet but it's one of those ideas that keeps haunting me. I'm sure it'll go somewhere eventually.

What intriguing dreams have you had?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tweet A Book Challenge

Are you a Twitter user? Are you unsure of what to do with Twitter? I found something that's good for both types.

Earlier today, one of my tweeples posted a link to Tweet A Book. It's a Twitter-based writing challenge running from December 21-31. It's free to join, and for those who are not already Twitter users, sign-up is free and takes about a minute. I'm planning to participate just for the fun of it. I think it will make a good exercise as the requirements present certain challenges.

If you need a boost or just want to participate in something unique, check out the rules and get your Twitter account going.

P.S. While you're there, feel free to follow me on Twitter - http://twitter.com/amy_saunders.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Engage Readers With Concrete Words

It's always been my impulse to write in vague, generic language. In my older works (especially going way back), I had little to no concrete language. It can still be oh-so-tempting to choose the blanket expression rather than spill blood to get the word that conjures a concrete, sensory image. But the more specific examples you use, the more enticing and engaging your writing will be.

Take a paragraph from a story I wrote a while ago. The first version uses generic words:

The following afternoon, Saphira escaped outside to collect flowers while her
mother directed household matters, preparing for the banquet they hosted that
evening. Meat roasted on a spit since the day before. Servants gathered
vegetables from the kitchen garden while others set up tables in the main hall,
adorning them with candelabras brought in from the private chambers.

What would you do to improve this? Take a minute to think about how you could make it more concrete.

What did you come up with? Here is the version used in the story:

The following afternoon, Saphira escaped outside to collect flowers while her
mother directed household matters inside, preparing for the banquet they hosted
that evening. A wild boar roasted on a spit since the day before, and chickens,
geese, and lamb roasted since the morning. Servants gathered carrots, parsnips,
and asparagus from the kitchen garden while others set up tables in the main
hall, adorning them with candelabras brought in from the private chambers.

Can you see the massive boar spinning over an open fire? If you've ever smelled a pig roasting, you no doubt remember it. And now with the list of other animals and vegetables, you get an idea of the size of the banquet. Even this version needs improvement. It's been a while since I read the story, and the first thing I wanted to know was what kind of flowers? If you wonder, so will your readers.

So say Honda Civic over car. One-level ranch over house. Golden retriever over dog. Do you see the difference? Readers will get more out of your writing when you give them concrete images to go on. Sweat and bleed for those specific words. If you make it a practice, you'll soon find concrete comes just as easily as generic.

Get Writing!
Take one paragraph from a story you're currently working on. Read it and circle every generic word. Then replace those generic words with concrete substitutes. Your goal: To focus on writing (and thinking) in specifics.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Get Writing!: Reading, Rec Rooms, and RVs

Why would a man who is on vacation at an RV park go to the community recreation room to read? Give yourself about 20 minutes to explore this idea.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Get Writing With Prompts

Do you use writing prompts? I find they're not only great for igniting ideas but they can really help you get writing when you don't really want to. You don't have to think of what to write, and once you get rolling, you may write for longer then you planned. I've started several sessions kicking and screaming and finished with my mind buzzing over an idea - all because of one good prompt. I've gone on to complete several stories that began because of prompts. And because they tease the words out of you, they make a good warm up before other projects.

So where do you find prompts? You may have your own favorite books or websites that feature or include prompts. Writing magazines, including Writer's Digest, often include prompts in-print and online. Below are a sampling of books and websites brimming with writing prompts.

The Writer's Book of Matches
The staff of fresh boiled peanuts, a literary journal
(I keep this one in close reach.)

The Pocket Muse
Monica Wood
(Another standby. She also includes photographs with captions as prompts.)

The 3 A.M. Epiphany
Brian Kiteley

Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge

1000 Songwriting Ideas
Lisa Aschmann
(It's not all writing-related but the prompts are very cool and the approach quite different from other writing forms. My sister and I have a blast using this book.)

Creative Writing Prompts
(I use this site all the time to kickstart my writing.)

Dragon Writing Prompts

The One-Minute Writer

If you don't already, I highly recommend using writing prompts. If you do, keep using them and build a collection of favorite prompt spots. Writing from prompts, even when you write begrudgingly, may lead you to wonderful things. Have fun!

Get Writing!
Pick one of the above books or sites (or another you know of). Flip or search until a prompt strikes your fancy. Then set the timer for 20 minutes and go to it! If you wind up going longer and love what you've done, excellent! If not, it's still excellent! You wrote and that's what counts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Get Writing!: Once Upon a Time at a Health Food Store

It's singles' night at a health food store. Write one paragraph describing the scene from the perspective of a store employee, a man there for singles' night, and a customer who stumbles upon the gathering.

Let's see what we come up with....

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Writing Challenge

Write a story about an evil knight - in exactly 100 words.

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Take Time to Get to Know Your Characters

Sometimes we get so excited by an idea or in such a hurry to finish that we go too fast and don't spend enough time delving into the characters. I've certainly been guilty of this. But knowing the intimate details of your characters gives you the power to portray them accurately for your readers. And there's nothing more satisfying in a story then a fully developed character.

Let's start with basic personal details. Creating a character profile can help, especially with background and family information. For instance, you might list his or her name, date of birth, height, weight, eye and hair color, hometown, current residence, parents, siblings, marital status, children, occupation, religion, hobbies, interests, activities.

Then you can get even more specific. What car does she drive? (Or does she drive at all?) Who are her friends? Neighbors? Does she live in a house or apartment? How far does she go to work and how does she get there? Does she like her job? What about her coworkers? What does she eat for breakfast? Does she have time to eat before leaving the house or does she scarf it down en route? What's her favorite dessert? What does her living space look like? How does she dress?

If you're so inclined, you may want to make a form with basic questions like these. Each time you start a new story, fill it out for the new characters. At the very least, answer some of these questions in your head.

After you get a handle on the character's personality, dig deeper. Let's take the mother from last week's character perspective article as an example. You'll remember that her daughter attempted suicide. As the writer, what should you know about the mother?

Start by asking questions related to the story:
How close is she to her daughter? Is the attempted suicide a complete shock or did she see it coming? Does she like her daughter (like and love are not necessarily the same)? Do they have a lot in common? Do they communicate? What are her plans and desires for her daughter? Do they clash with what her daughter wants? What is her relationship with her husband? Who are her parents? What was her growing-up experience like? Would she be able to relate to her daughter's feelings in this instance?

How about interviewing your characters? It may sound strange but I've found this to be an effective way to learn how they feel about what's happening in the story. Going back to the mother from the suicide attempt story, you might ask her some of the questions listed in the previous paragraph. For example, How do you feel about your daughter's attempted suicide? Did you worry about her? Did anyone else ever tell you they were worried about her? What will you do now?

I know, I know. It seems ridiculous. This is not a real person blah blah blah. But when you read, don't you forget that the characters are not real people? I do. To some extent, when you're the writer you must forget that too. So trust me on this. At first, you will feel silly. But as you go, the character will start talking because you're thinking like that person. And that's when characters really come to life.

So take some time out from the story and ask questions about your characters. Find out who they are and what they're doing in the story. Learn details about their background and day-to-day life. Even interview them to get to the emotions and opinions that will make them real to your readers. Whatever methods work for you, do take the time to get to know your characters.

Get Writing!
1) Take one character from a story in-progress and create a profile based on the elements and questions in this article and any others you think of. Alternatively, make up a new character and create a profile for him or her. 2) Interview this same character, asking questions that will help you know how they feel about the conflicts or people involved in the story. Your goal: To learn more about the characters than the actual story may reveal. Ultimately, you want to know more than you'll ever tell in the story.

Related Posts with Thumbnails