3 Why You Shouldn't Set New Year's Resolutions (and why I did)

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.

3. Timing

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?

Morgan's 2020 Resolutions

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:

  1. Blogging/Vlogging
  2. Reading
  3. Revising
  4. Querying
  5. Beta-reading
  6. Conventions
  7. Writing

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.

Morgan, a long-haired brunette, is laying on a carpet, legs in slippers kicked up behind her, writing in a notebook.

Behind her is a table and a bookshelf.

1. Revising

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.


3. Blogging/Vlogging

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.

Quote on a grey board on a brown shelf with books behind it.
“And to think, some of life’s best stories haven’t even begun”

4. Reading

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!

5. Writing

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.

Morgan taking a selfie while sitting near the front of a room full of chairs. (She's at a writing panel at a convention)

7. Conventions

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!


In Summary

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.


What does your plan look like for 2020

Did you build in flexibility?

And, how SMART are your goals?


See my previous years resolutions and reflections:
2017 Resolutions | 2017 Retrospective
2018 Resolutions | 2018 Retrospective
2019 Resolutions | 2019 Retrospective

Morgan's 2019 Retrospective

2019 kept me busy. Between my dayjob, my own projects, and helping friends and family with their projects, I was, as always, completely overbooked.

As with 2017 and 2018, I may not have ended my year with a signed agent, but I didn’t just sit around.

I attended 2 writing conventions, wrote 21 short stories, 33 poems, got a mentor who is helping me revise my 1st novel (my 8th time), and revised my fourth novel.

Between Balticon and WorldCon, I hit 39 panels, 7 shows, 4 readings, 2 yoga classes, and helped run 2 parties. Outside of cons, I attended 3 different writing groups, joined the #authortube community, and became a regular at my local open mic nights for writers.

This year, I did a lot more interacting in person, versus all the virtual interaction I’ve done in the past, but I love comparing numbers, so let’s look at them.

orange and green pen on graphing notepad
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

My Writing Goals Last Year

I made sure to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound) goals.

2019 Goals

  1. Blogging/Vlogging – don’t break my streak. Maybe add a picture post.
    • WIN: Well, no new picture posts, but my streak is still going strong.
  2. Read at least 26 books this year.
    • WIN: I blew this one out of the water with 41 books this year!
  3. Revise Manuscript (MS) #1 in February, MS #2 in April, and MS #3 or #4 in June.
    • PARTIAL CREDIT (50%): Instead of 3 revisions, I’m halfway through a revision with my mentor of MS #1, but I did finish a revision of MS #4. It’s now off with my alpha-reader.
  4. Once MS #1 has been revised, starting in March, query 3 times a week for 4 months.
    • FAIL
    • Um… I’m still revising it. I didn’t query At All this year. ūüė¶
  5. Beta-Readers – after revisions, send MS #2 and MS #3/4 to <8 beta readers.
    • Partial Credit (25%): My alpha-reader’s sitting on MS #4, and MS #2 was never revised.
  6. Conventions
    • WIN
    • Attended Balticon and WorldCon as planned.
    • Did NOT get on any panels, but that’s fine. This coming year’s looking good ūüėČ
  7. Writing. Do OctPoWriMo and if I don’t have a great idea by NaNoWriMo, rebel and revise something.
    • WIN
    • I did OctPoWriMo – October Poem Writing Month – a themed poem a day for all of October.
    • I didn’t rebel by revising, but instead by writing short stories. I hit 50,000 words, so I count that as a NaNoWriMo win.
  8. And give myself a pass if I don’t get anything accomplished in December.
    • Wait? That was on my resolutions? *whew* Thank you, Past-Morgan. You were 110% correct on that front.
    • WIN

Things outside this list I achieved, though?

  • Got a writing mentor from The Broad Universe in January
  • Set up my own newsletter
  • Networking – became a regular at Open Mic Night for writers
  • Got asked to read slush for “The Oddville Press” – an online magazine.
  • Got asked to help with Balticon programming — due to my extensive panel viewing, I’ve got insight on which panels worked and which panelists I’d love to see again.
  • Beta-reading for friends. At least 2 full length novels and 5 shorts.
  • Setting up Trello for me (and for a friend on her blog tour for her book release)

Morgan peers over her laptop (it has a red flowery vinyl skin on it). trees are in the background behind her.

Blogging!

Top Lifetime Post

My sleeper hit, 10 Questions To Ask Your Beta Readers, from 2016 is still tops with 2,134 lifetime hits (and is published here). But, it’s way down from its peak, one of 2019’s posts beat it out for popularity.

Despite being less popular than my regular posts, I’m keeping my Query Corner — where I rewrite queries with authors preparing to enter the query trenches, and my Author Spotlight — to help promote friends works. I’m not hustling for¬†entries,¬†but will share them when I have content for them. (If you’d like to participate, please contact me at¬†morgan.s.hazelwood@gmail.com)

My Top 10 Posts of 2019!

  1. Morgan’s Complete Guide For Attending A Convention
  2. So You’ve Decided to Write A Novel – 7 Tips To Get Started
  3. Making the Asexual Textual
  4. Introduction to Hopepunk
  5. Done To Death: The Art of Killing Characters
  6. How I Finally Gave In and Set Up My Own Newsletter
  7. The Future of Podcasting
  8. Advancing the Story Without Traumatizing Your Characters
  9. What The Writer Needs to Know: The Brain and The Body
  10. Picking an Agent (or #PW Mentor) To Query

My Top 5 YouTube Videos! in 2019

Not all of these are from 2019, but here’s what was popular on my feed this year. (I’m still not sure where all my Mythology viewers are coming from, but I’m happy to have them.)

My Top 3 Posts of 2018

My Top 3 Posts of 2017


My Top 3 Posts of 2016


My Top 3 Posts of 2015


Social Media Stats

I like stats and tracking progress, so here are my numbers for 2019. I tried to be both engaged and engaging, while still invested in upping my content creation in all mediums.

Followers

First off, I worked on getting more followers for my Youtube channel and Instagram. I was sporadic in my Pinterest and Reddit usage. Having hit the Twitter follow limit, I can only add people as people add me.

Between all my social media accounts, I added 5,970 followers, more than double last year’s! Twitter was, of course, #1 for number of new followers, but percentage-wise, my facebook page, facebook profile, and Youtube channel were the main areas of growth. Plus, I added LinkedIn to this chart and removed GooglePlus.

Content

This year I maintained my streak of blogging at least once a week and kept up with the vlogging. (My Goodreads stats are books added to my library, the last 2 years are the books I’ve read.) (My FB page wouldn’t give my year stats and stopped letting me scroll in mid-2016, so, those stats are incomplete, but I can compare to the last 2 years.)

As targeted last year, I maintained my average of posting on Instagram twice a week. And started posting at least weekly to Pinterest.

Account Break Down

  • WordPress – I started this blog in April of 2015.
    • I took a bit of a dip in the blog category, although some of it is just plain not posting as much. I had a lot of Query Corners, Author Spotlights, and a blog hop last year. This year, I didn’t do as much. Actually slightly below 2017’s numbers, in views and likes.
  • ¬†Twitter MorganHzlwood¬†– I joined in March of 2016.
    • I could be more engaged. But, I think I’m comfortable with my level of engagement. I’ll ramp it up if needed. I’m still just posting and responding to my notifications. It’s a good way to avoid the drama that twitter can be prone to.
  • ¬†Tumblr MorganHazelwood¬†– I joined in June of 2016
    • I mastered queuing things, in spurts. Grew a bit organically, but I think the platform is dying.
  • ¬†Instagram MorganHazelwood¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I may try posting on an actual schedule. Or not. You never know when something pretty will happen. I’ve been trying to be more intentional in my posts. Making 1 text post for every 2 image posts. (or reversed in OctPoWriMo). And making sure to vary the types of images.
  • ¬†¬†Pinterest MorganHazelwoo¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I’m sharing my video post weekly, but not much else. I should join some group boards? Or something like that. I did make that inspiration-board for my middle-grade novel, though.
  • ¬†Facebook PagesMorganHazelwoodPage¬†– I joined in 2015.
    • I invited all my friends once. A lot of them followed me, and I’ve been trying to post semi-regularly. Since I bother to alt-text most of my reshared content, “Writing About Writing” often reshares me — and brings in MASSIVE readership for those posts. Otherwise, though FB still often shows my posts to fewer than 10% of my followers. It’s annoying, but I’m not paying. I’ll just keep reposting on my personal page as well.
  • ¬†Facebook MorganSHazelwood¬†– I joined in 2013.
    • I got a lot of new followers when I posted a tribute to the Mars Rover Opportunity. (The post went VIRAL) It was a roller coaster for me and as heartbreaking as a robot could ever be. </3
  • ¬†Google+Morgan S Hazelwood¬†– I joined in 2013
    • Dead.
  • ¬†GoodReads Morgan Hazelwood¬†– I joined in January 2016
    • I read 41 books this year, beating my target of 2 books a month significantly!
    • I rated all of them, but don’t think I reviewed them.
  • Reddit –¬†Morgan Hazelwood¬† –¬†I joined in January of 2017.
    • I slipped on this, but my karma is 510.
    • I had 7 posts, mostly reshares from my blog.

In Conclusion

I didn’t do as much as I’d hoped.

Some of that was external.¬†People who are reading your work out of the kindness of their hearts and working around their own schedules aren’t necessarily going to adhere to your schedule.¬†My paying job got very busy for the summer, plus personal travel.

Some of the issues were the consequences of decisions.

  • I’m still running 2 Facebook PitchWars support groups and administering another SFF writer’s group. Plus, stepping up as part of the #authorTube community. That takes time, energy, and spoons.
  • I decided to do my best to keep up with at least 5 different types of social media.
  • I really like 9 hours of sleep a night, even if 7 is more standard.
  • I still have scheduled social time with friends Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. Add in my blog post writing and uploading Wednesday nights and full weekend social schedule…

I’ve been prioritizing keeping up with my self-imposed schedule over actually writing.¬†I’m still a bit burnt out, but I have goals. This year, I’m going to take intentional breaks. EVEN if I haven’t achieved my target for the previous working-stretch.

However…

I DID do a lot of writing, more revising on my first novel than anticipated, grew my vlog, critiqued novels for friends and family, and read an average of 3.42 novels/novella’s a month.

I may have fallen short, but you know what Les Brown says about that?

222r9n

How well did you do on your goals?

Had you given up on them in January, did you rock the BLEEP out of them, or did you do okay but think you might do better with concrete, SMART goals?

5 Ways To Track Your Writing Progress

I know some writers hate NaNoWriMo and others love it. And agents are understandably wary of any NaNo novel that’s queried within 3 months of pencils down. For those who are unfamiliar, NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’, otherwise known as the pledge to write 50,000 words (or 200 pages of a novel) during the 30 days of November.

But me? I’m a fan.

I like setting goals where I can measure my incremental progress and watch myself get closer to my goal. When I was weight lifting, it was exciting watching my lifting weights go up every couple weeks. When I hit my body weight on my deadlift and squats… when I hit my ex’s body weight on my deadlift and squats… those were exciting numbers to see.

But that was a couple years ago. And a couple pounds ago.

These days, most of my incremental goals are with my writing.

NaNoWriMo is faster than my natural writing pace, and involves cutting a lot of things out of my life in November to make it happen. BUT! In the off season, there’s two sessions of ‘Camp NaNo’, one in April and one in June. Best of all? During Camp, you set your own goals.

This year, they’re working on improving the websites, but CampNaNo has expanded their tracker methods. For those of us who might be in an editing or revision phase? Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I LOVE the new options.

Yes, these are listed on the Camp NaNo site, as options for tracking your current progress, but you can use them anytime, anywhere!

Writing Tracking Methods

  • Words – the traditional NaNo yardstick.
  • Lines – helpful for those writing poetry or other sorts of works.
  • Minutes – Useful for those of us, squeezing in our writing (or editing) time when we can.
  • Hours – Useful for those of us who are working on research or editing or workshopping or making index cards and plotting out. All those side tasks that don’t feel like ‘real writing’, but are, and are oh-so-necessary.
  • Pages – ME! All the pages I’m revising get counted in here. I’m loving being able to track this coherently through their system!

Speaking of, it’s time for me to stop stalling and get back to those pages. They aren’t gonna revise themselves, now are they?

What’s your favorite tracking method? How does that change up depending on which writing phase you’re in?

The Reward For A Job Well Done…

In my day job, I’d been working hard on a project for nearly a year, but turned the last of my work in back in December. Then, all I could do for that project was wait for everyone else to be done with their part. Tuesday, we had a big, milestone test, and it passed. But? It’s far from done.

But, my day job isn’t the only place where that happens, my writing works the same way.

I work hard, polish it up so it passes my own tests, and then I send it off to beta readers, or critique partners, or agents. I wait… maybe not-so-patiently for my writing to pass their ‘tests’, and then I hear back (or pass the no-answer-means-no-thank-you deadline).

So far, my responses have been positive — or at least neutral.

No one has told me my writing sucks and I should stick to reading. But? They all have ideas for improvement. Ways for my work to get better, for the plot to flow more naturally, to give the emotional core of the story a greater impact, to make the setting and main character something that an agent can connect with and draw them in.

Both of my projects already have a form, a function, and a shape. Now, it’s time to really see what I can turn them into.

This coming year is a year of revision for me. Taking rough manuscripts and turning them into a polished form. Rough stone to elegant statues.


Where are you with your projects? Are they still ideas and raw material?

Or are you ready to polish them ’til they shine?