Goals aren’t for everyone. Goals in January? Even less so.
For some of us, setting goals is just setting ourselves up for failure. You need to take a good hard look at where you are, where you want to go, and what stands in your way.
1. Current Obligations
If you are already over-committed, you might want to re-examine your priorities and see if you actually have the bandwidth to take on new tasks.
If not? This probably isn’t the right time for you to set new goals. Instead, you might want to look into what steps you could take to free up your bandwidth — to either get a better handle on everything you’re currently trying to do, or make space for new goals in the future.
2. Emotional State
Check in with yourself, first. If you’re not in the right space, emotionally, setting goals can end up hurting you.
Some people are naturally contrary, and when faced with a goal, find ourselves doing anything else.
Others? We have trouble dealing with the setbacks and failures that are intrinsically a part of striving for something that’s not in our reach, yet.
If you know that you won’t be able to roll with the setbacks and keep at it? Your priority should be working on getting yourself back on more stable ground, emotionally. And making sure that you have a firm support network that will be able to help you through any setbacks and push you toward your better self.
Instead of setting goals, just work on whatever project seems to be flowing better and concentrate on making progress. Let your creative side out, without burdening it with expectations.
Of course, if you find setting and meeting goals intrinsically encouraging and reinforcing, then do so. Just make sure they’re achievable and things you actually have control over.
For writers? Setting word count or page-edit goals are something you can control. Self-publishing or querying 50 agents is something you can control. Getting an agent or traditionally published? Not so much.
Basically, whether it’s the right time for you to set goals, or not, just boils down to timing.
Timing of obligations.
Timing of dealing with everything life throws at you.
For me? New Years Resolutions are a GREAT time to set goals and plan out how I’m going to approach them.
Why? Because October is busy and has #OctPoWriMo, November is PACKED and has #NaNoWriMo, and before I can catch my breath? December is there with all the holiday cards and decorations and baking and gatherings.
January? Is my first chance to breath since the start of fall. It’s my first chance to take a step back, see where I am, and decide the best way to get from here to where I want to go.
But, your annual cycle doesn’t necessarily look like mine. For professors or teachers, summer might be your time. For tax accountants? May. For parents? September (or October, after all those open houses and back-to-school activities and the first wave of brought-home-germs).
Don’t feel like you’re doing things wrong if your schedule doesn’t match up with the calendar, or what everyone else is doing.
As I’m fond of saying at my dayjob, processes exist to help you accomplish stuff. If the process is getting in the way, you need to either adapt the process for your purposes, or find a new process.
Did you set New Year’s Resolutions?
If so, share them with me!
If not, did one of these three things contribute toward that decision? Or was it something else, entirely?
As January firmly establishes itself, I’m finally ready to talk about what 2020 is going to look like for me.
Last year was intended to be a year of reading, revision, and reflection.
Thusly, I listed my goals:
As I shared last week, I did great on everything on that list — except my revisions and querying — you know, the parts of the list that actually get me closer to publication. Does anyone else see the problem here?
This year? This year my focus is on revisions and querying/submitting.
As always, I like to set SMART goals –
Specific – you’ll see numbers and dates!
Measurable – you’ll still see numbers and dates
Achievable – I set goals for things I have influence over. I’m aiming for an agent, getting something published, but unless I self-pub, I have no control over that.
Relevant – I’m keeping my exercise goals and healthy eating off this post. These are all about my writing, the relevance should be clear.
Time-sensitive – Obviously, these are intended to be completed in 2020, but some items may have specific dates associated.
So? Let’s take last year’s list and put it in a new priority order.
Last year’s goal of revising 3 full manuscripts was… ambitious. I clearly was thinking more about what it takes for me to edit (clean up a draft) than about what it takes to get feedback from others, integrate it, and polish the draft till it comes out in my voice.
The manuscript I had ready for querying last year is in the middle of revisions with my wonderful mentor. But? The mentorship officially ended last April, and, although she generously volunteered to keep at it with me, she has paying work that, of course, comes first. So? We’re working through my novel 30 pages at a time.
My hope is to have the revisions done by the end of May, when I hit Balticon. But, life happens. So, what can I do to speed up the process on my end? Make sure that the next 30 page chunk is as ready to go as I can make it before I get feedback from the previous section.
I’m cutting a secondary character’s role in the last 3rd of the journey, and changing the nature of the last leg of the journey quite a bit, so I already know a large part of the plotting changes. Plus, my mentor keeps reminding me to add visuals. As I’ve said before, I worry about what’s in the character’s head and the action. I forget people want to see the world itself. So, that’s my revision priority.
But, of course, there’s going to be some downtime.
To fill that in, I’ve been nudging my alpha reader who has my middle-grade contemporary fantasy (the school play story) and should hear back in the next week or so.
Also? Last year also included writing some short stories and some poetry. Between revising my middle-grade story and getting those shorts and poetry ready for publication, I’ve got a lot to work on.
2. Querying & Submitting
If you haven’t tried to get your work published before, this item might seem confusing. What’s the difference?
Querying is a intro-letter and first chapter or so that you send to a literary agent. Once you have an agent, they often make you do revisions, before submitting your work to a publishing house.
Why do you need an agent? There are many publishing houses that do not accept unagented work. Agents understand what your contract should look like and what is negotiable. Plus? The agent’s job is to know the market — and thus know what your book needs in order to best sell it — and to whom. Typically, you query 5-10 agents at a time.
Submitting a manuscript/short story/poem is what you can do to any editor/publisher who is open to it: publishers (who are open to unagented work), literary magazines, anthologies, etc.
When you’re sending a cover letter and your story to the place that will actually print/publish the piece, it’s called a submission. Typically, submissions are exclusive (unless the guidelines state otherwise), so you have to wait to hear back before you can send to another publisher.
This year, for my short stories and poetry, I’m going to try to get at least 5 stories ready for publication and submit them to at least 10 markets. At least half of those submissions should be before July, just to make sure I don’t forget to put myself out there.
With you, I’m finding an audience and, I hope, creating a community. You are the people whose queries I help polish as you look for an agent, whose books I add to my massive to-read pile, the people I feature in my Author Spotlights. Blogging puts me out there, keeps me accountable, and gives me a way to give back to the community.
Plus? I haven’t missed a week on my blog since February of 2016 (although, I have done reruns) nor a vlog-post since I started vlogging on June 27, 2017. So? I’d hate to break my posting streak! Thus, I’ll continue putting out a new blog/vlog every Thursday with writing tips or writerly musings.
I’m already off to a great start with this, but when I have them lined up, I’ll also be sharing Author Spotlights or Query Corners on Tuesdays.
I’m thinking of adding some Authortube videos of my massive to-read pile, or maybe an occasional brief weekly check-in since those were popular during NaNo. I just need to find a time that works every week for those, so I can schedule them in advance and make them interactive.
I did great on this one last year, but I’m not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. I had a lot of travel, and managed to hit 41 books, but there’s no guarantee this year will as generous. I even managed to read a decent amount of physical books — but a lot of those were new or re-reads. Not as many from my to-read pile as I’d like to admit.
So? I’m keeping my goal from last year of reading 26 books – a little more than two a month. This time? At least 10 of them should be physical and ALREADY on my bookshelf.
So far? I finished a short story collection I bought over the holidays AND read a book that’s been with me since before I moved. Not a bad start!
Yet again, writing is so far down my list!
I can hear your thoughts, your concerns. What’s wrong, Morgan? I thought this was your writing blog. Why isn’t this more writing focused? Do you want to be a blogger/vlogger more than a writer?
Well, first? Rewriting IS writing, and revisions are tops on my list. The goal is publication and I’ve got 4 manuscripts, 21+ short stories, and 30+ poems just waiting for a home.
More writing right now just means a larger backlog of things to be polished.
But! Never fear, I will be doing OctPoWriMo again — writing a poem a day for all of October. And then NaNoWriMo — writing 50,000 words in November. If I’m really stumped in November, I’ll rebel and revise either 5 shorts or a full manuscript. But, knowing me, I’ll probably make new words.
6. Beta Readers
I’ll be reaching out to beta readers as I wrap up my revisions on my middle grade novel, hopefully before August. Last year’s goals of having revisions of two different manuscripts done by May AND July were unrealistic.
As always, I like to keep my beta reader pool to no more than 8 readers, typically from different backgrounds. I usually give them separate copies, so that their feedback won’t influence each other.
I’m considering joining a local critique group and feel that short stories work much better in those venues than a full manuscript. Especially since I’m more interested in feedback on my pacing and characterization than the chapter itself. I guess it’s arrogance, but I think I know where my problem points lay.
On the flip-side, I’m now a contributing editor to The Oddville Press, an online literary magazine of odd, but not really fantastical tales. I’m also a regular beta-reader for my dad (who’s retired from a day job and enjoys filling my inbox). Not to mention, I have a few critique partners, and writer friends who have been known to reach out for feedback. I will try not to commit to more than 3 full length betas this year.
Actually, maybe I should have changed the name of this goal. This should be all the in-person writing goals. I aim to attend 6+ open mic nights, 4+ monthly writer meetings, try a critique group, and 3 NaNoWriMo events (kickoff, 1 write in, and the all-nighter till 11pm). Plus? Two+ conventions.
I intend to hit Balticon again (May) and — if everything works out — WorldCon (August) in New Zealand (!!). I submitted to be a panelist at Balticon again… and this time was accepted! And? I think they approved the panels I suggested (topics from this blog that I feel I can talk competently on, and that my unpublished perspective won’t be a detriment to my authority on the subject).
How do I know they approved them? They recruited me to be on their Programming team! (Apparently, after attending nearly 30 panels a year for the last 5 years, they suspected I might have opinions about what makes a good panel and who are the good panelists.) So, that’s another time commitment.
What does being on panels net me? Why do I want to do this?
First, it’s a greater reach for my blog and vlog. Plus, a larger audience when I do get published. Hopefully, a way to make more friends and supporters. Plus, a chance to talk about all the stuff I obsess over on my blog and on my vlog in person with actual people.
But how does attending conventions count as a writing goal? Isn’t it just fun?Or part of your social media addiction?
Well, if you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that over half the content is actually write ups from notes at convention panels! I attend the panels, for those who can’t (or don’t). Also? My sister teases me that I act like a teacher, trying to get her recertification credits, all in one weekend.
And? Well, I talked about it in my post on attending conventions, but, of course, there’s the networking aspect. The science-fiction and fantasy conventions I prefer are full of readers, writers, and even some publishers and agents!
As is becoming my trend, the first part of my year will be focused on revisions, the middle on conventions, and the end on writing. Plus, I’ll be reading and blogging and vlogging throughout the year.
Except December. I’m not a writer in December — everyone needs a chance to breath.
We’ll have to wait until next January to see if I had 2020 foresight.
In BENTLEY ONE, a set of elementally-aligned college students set out to find what’s scaring off its ghosts.
NOTE: If you submit your query to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), and you are selected for inclusion, I will give you a high-level review, in-line feedback, and my own draft of your query. If this is your query, feel free to use or ignore as much of the advice and suggestions as you wish.
[Disclaimer: Any query selected for the page will be posted on this website for perpetuity. I am an amateur with no actual accepted queries and a good number of form rejections. This does not guarantee an agent or even an amazing query, just a new take by someone who’s read The Query Shark archives twice and enjoys playing with queries.]
The story sounds like it might be interesting, but I can’t know from your query.
The query needs to introduce the Main Character and their Goals and Stakes.
The query should not talk about the process or why you wrote the book.
Beta-readers and following the guidelines should be a given, thus don’t need to be discussed.
I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words.
BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others. Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus.
While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel.
I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions.
According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me.
All the best,
I am seeking representation for my supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical. The finished novel is 63,000 words. [Pretty good intro. Although, trying to redefine something like ghosts as ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘supernatural’ may be stretching. Perhaps you should look at agents who are actively looking for or are open to Supernatural fantasy?]
BENTLEY ONE explores the haunted campus of Bentley University located in Northern Pennsylvania. BU has several ghosts, one more prominent than others. Someone or something is drafting the ghosts into servitude. The novel develops the friendship of the students who set out to right what is wrong about the campus. [This is telling, not showing. I think we can pump it up.]
While college was many years ago for me, the setting for BENTLEY ONE is inspired by a similar, real-life university, where I majored in mathematics and minored in writing, with an emphasis on creative writing. This is my first novel. [You don’t want to emphasize inexperience, and unless it’s an #ownvoices novel or the plot involves a specialty of yours, this isn’t needed.]
I have put BENTLEY ONE through multiple rounds of beta reading (including readers in the target demographic) to clean up plot points and address confusion. Most recently, I have had it professionally edited to prepare it for agent submissions. [This is expected — except ‘professionally edited’. This suggests that you need a lot of work to polish drafts, and often agents (or the acquiring editors they’re selling to) will have you do revisions upon acceptance.]
According to your guidelines for submission, I am including the first 10 pages of BENTLEY ONE for your consideration in representing me. [Unnecessary.]
All the best,
The queriest took my advice, but admitted the trouble with illustrating the main character was that this was a multiple point-of-view tale! With a few more passes, we ended up with a query the queriest was happy to use.
The Final Query:
I am seeking representation for my 61,000 word supernatural YA novel, BENTLEY ONE. I think this novel may hit in a sweet spot for you since its supernatural elements tend to present more as fantastical.
Miguel leaves campus at the end of his freshman year with all its friendly ghosts in place, haunting in their normal haunts. When he returns after the summer break, he knows something is definitely wrong – all the ghosts have disappeared!
Linda, CJ, and Frankie are elementally aligned students, looking for an earth-aligned person to complete their own investigation into the missing ghosts. Also investigating the disappearing ghosts, Miguel is easily convinced to join forces with them. When they discover an ancient, powerful spirit, calling herself ‘The Queen of Disks’ is not only taking out ghosts but controlling an army of grey-hoodied students, the foursome realize it’s not just the spirit world in danger. If they can’t stop the spirit, she just might end up controlling more than just a school.
Despite my own college’s severe lack of actual ghosts, I graduated from [SCHOOL], with a major in mathematics and a minor in writing.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
With a little more focus on the meat of the story, and a little less on how the novel came together, it looks like Q32 is well on their way to finding an agent!
And for the rest of you out there? Best of luck in the query trenches!
Some people work with partners. And some people like to work with their romantic partner. But whether you’re romantically involved or not, there’s techniques that could work for you.
At WorldCon2019, Heidi Goody led the working couples of Peter Morwood and Diane Duane, plus Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner in discussing how to maintain working and romantic relationships — with the same person.
Maintain Separate Offices
In rural Ireland, Duane’s office is the living room and Morwood’s is the second bedroom.
When they’re working on a project together, they stay in their room and don’t talk. When it’s time to fraternize or collaborate, they meet in the kitchen.
In New York City, Sherman and Kushner mostly write separately — by hand — in their studies on opposite sides of the apartment. (They left Boston because they were “tired of being the most colorful couple in the room.”) They like to take long walks and discuss character building, writing theory, or whatever they’re working on.
Both couples find it hard to stop talking shop, but Sherman and Kushner find it helps to have other passions.
Duane and Morwood’s biggest interruptions are the neighbor’s loud sheep. Known to the neighbors as “The Trekkie’s”, they’re considered boring because they don’t raise sheep or horses.
How Their Writing Partnerships Began
On Morwood and Duane’s honeymoon, her book was late, so they wrote it together. It helps that Duane is a big outliner, especially for screen. As she says, screen writing is very formulaic.
For Sherman and Kushner, a year or so after they moved in together, they learned to negotiate through writing. But for them, it is the ‘Spirit of Fun!’ Like playing Barbies together.
Sharing Drafts and Blending Portions
Some people consider their drafts sacred, others see theirs as horrible piles of —
Duane never shows her rough draft to another human soul. The next draft though is fine.
Morwood doesn’t count how many drafts he goes through. As he says, “I’m a professional.”
Sherman and Kushner typically have interweaving plotlines, with Kushner woking on the more social scenes, while Sherman works on the academic ones (when they started collaborating, she had just graduated and had scores to settle.)
When writing each other’s characters, the other keeps the veto power. They do their best to keep personal ego out of the story — only really argueing over semicolons.
When it comes time to edit, Sherman reads aloud to Kushner, her bits and the printouts. Although, Sherman is stronger on description, while Kushner does dialogue, when they revise drafts, they overwrite each other. By 5 drafts in it’s fully blended.
Morwood and Duane work together similarly. Plus, they’re pretty good literary mimics. One usually has veto power. Duane is best at plotting and screen writing. Morwood has veto power on fight scenes and tactics.
Just remember when collaborating, there are competing needs for validation, love, and “listen to MY story.”
Music to Collaborate to?
Duane stopped listening to music — it interfered with her dialogue. But movies work fine for her as background.
Kushner used to listen to music, although it couldn’t be in English or had to be something she knew inside and out. Now, she writes at home in silence.
Morwood listens to tons of things, but turns off his Audible when writing dialogue. He likes to have Dragon Naturally Speaking play back his dialogue to him.
Sherman and Duane both like to write in cafes, with that background chatter, gathering faces for characters. If Sherman can’t have that, she needs complete silence.
When deadlines are piling up, Duane will go to a friend’s flat in the middle of no-where-Switzerland for weeks, while Kushner will head off to a friend’s house. The change of location helps with productivity. No chores — or partner — around to distract.
Collaboration can be a tricky beast. Have you worked on a collaborative work? What techniques worked best for you?
Have you worked with a romantic partner? Did it strain your relationship?
Some books are straight up romances, some have no romantic dealings at all, but for everything in between, they’ve probably got a romantic sub-plot (or two) simmering in the background.
At WorldCon2019, PRK, Kate Johnson, Darlene Marshall, and Elliot Kay shared their tips for creating a successful romantic subplot.
The Rules Of Romance
Romance might get a bad rap in some circles, but romance is what keeps publishing in business, and it’s the mother of all genres when you look at sales.
Romance novels come in all stripes and colors, but they have two things that unify them:
The love story is central to the plot – i.e. the plot doesn’t work without the romance
An optimistic ending – these days, it doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it needs to be happy-for-now, or at least romantically satisfying
The typical plot of a Romance novel is predictable
The romantic partners come together
Something separates them
They come together again
There’s a black moment when we think all is lost
Then, there’s the optimistic/happy ending!
We know the plot of a romance novel, what makes them enjoyable is the journey.
There are certain tropes that some people love to see over and over again. While other tropes are things that have been done to death — or are only enjoyable when there’s a fresh twist.
Our panelists shared a few of their favorites
Enemies to lovers/Friends to lovers – i.e. Shards of Honor by Lois Bujold
Alpha male – but easy to over do
Flipping gendered expectations
Note: This includes romances that aren’t heterosexual, or cis-gendered, or have more than two partners. – i.e. Starless by Jacqueline Carey, and KJ Charles’s work.
Both main characters are out to get the same things,\ and keep bumping into each other.
When the love interest redeems THEMSELVES, after seeing their flaws reflected back at them. i.e. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre
And least favorites:
No communication. The romance just happens!
This leads to readers forming unhealthy expectations about their relationships!
Also! If the plot hinges on a misunderstanding that could be fixed with 3 minutes of conversation (that would be normal to do in this situation), it’s a bad plot.
They’re only mean because they likes you
She’s here to redeem HIM
Killing her to provide motivation for the main character to grow
Writing Good Chemistry!
They didn’t give us too many tips. Just: if it’s fun for you (as a writer) and it works emotionally for you… it should be fine!
Chemistry can be sexual and/or romantic. In real life, asexual (Ace) people sometimes are interested in romance, even when they’re not interested in the X-rated stuff. So, characters can be written to reflect reality.
Communication and consent are key! When both characters are eager to take the next step, the relationship should blossom.
Claire O’Dell’s Janet Watson Chronicles
JD Robb’s In Death series
Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens
Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart A Doorway
The Romantic Subplot Doesn’t Have To Work Out
Even in romance novels, there can be secondary romances that don’t work out.
Short term relationships
Breakups, where it just didn’t work
Chick-lit has tons of this. You’ll see the main character with tons of bad — or at least not right for her — partners.
Speaking of other genres, these days, it can be tricky to tell if you’re reading a romance or not — especially when you wade into the urban fantasy and paranormal romance corner. Kate Johnson shared her secret trick for determining, just by the cover, which is which. The paranormal romance has a topless guy on the cover, while the urban fantasy has a tattooed chick on the cover.
When she told us that, I closed my eyes and pictured the books on my shelves, and burst out laughing. She’s got it right.
If you want to write more diverse characters, read #ownvoices works, research, talk to people who can share their lived experiences (don’t make assumptions), and pay sensitivity readers!
Write the book you want to write, your tropes will dictate the marketing.