Writing, Focus, and Accountability

I don’t know about you, but these days, my focus comes and goes in spurts. Trying to get anything done is a slog, uphill both ways, with a short stopover in the kitchen for a snack.

Right now, we’ve got the whole ‘social isolation’ thing happening, with worries about how fast COVID-19 already spread, and what the job market is gonna look like when this whole thing ends. Cause it has to end, right?

If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you should know that I’m the very definition of a Type-A lady. I need to feel some control over my life.

However, we all know the best type of productivity for this Type-A lady? Involves check-lists!


Remember a couple months ago when I started spouting the glories of using project management tools from the office for my writing? (For me, I picked Trello. They are not sponsoring me. I have no sponsors. But hey, Trello, feel free to sponsor me!)

Turns out? Offices use project management tools cause they kinda work.

I’ve almost kept up with all my self-imposed tasking. Seriously, for an unpaid vanity gig, I give myself a lot of work! Sometimes I think maybe I should focus more on my actual writing [my mom AND my dad both agree]. (But, hey, if you do find this blog helpful, leave a comment!*)

During the first 3 months of 2020, I only dropped the ball once. (Turns out, if you send Author Spotlight interviews less than 24 hours before they should go up, the replies might be done in voice-to-text. I deserved it).

To keep from making my mistake?

3 “Tricks” for Making Checklists Work

  1. Put the things you want to accomplish on them
  2. Add due dates
  3. Actually check the thing regularly

Now, I tried, really hard. It was just a bunch of small things that added up to the big miss. I added a spotlight but didn’t add it to the trello, I was sick and didn’t do my weekly task of ‘checking my trello board’, and I waited until bedtime, the day the author spotlight should have been prepped, before triple-checking my gmail draft that actually has the master list of author spotlights.


Before you go thinking I was born a Type-A, I must confess the reality of the situation. I’m a recovering messy-girl. That’s why organization is a thing I do in binges, and then coast until something goes wrong. I was the one who missed recess to clean up her desk. The one who was once hoarding seven library books in her desk and/or locker.

I am the girl who SOMEHOW managed to lose a spelling test DURING the test, before turning it in.

You think I’m joking? It started off with a messy scrawl and a spare sheet of paper where I was copying over the words in neater handwriting and ended up… I still don’t know.


Where was I going with this?

Humble-brag time. Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to:

  • read 14 books (10 physical ones)
  • slush read for The Oddville Press
  • beta read one short
  • attend 2 virtual Balticon meetings
  • 1 virtual Anansi Storytime meeting
  • revise 30 pages and send them to my mentor
  • did my first pass at prepping the next 30 pages
  • my weekly, unattended Twitter chat: #ChatWriteNow (10pm Thursdays)
  • Plus, of course, my 3 author spotlights, and as soon as I finish this, 3 blogposts and vlogposts

Plus, a not-a-rejection from an editor on a short story. (She’s no longer the editor on that project, I need to resubmit).

When I look at my Trello board for the entire 1st quarter (I organized it like that to keep from getting too cluttered), the only things I missed were:

  1. Monthly #authortube video that wasn’t my blog — although, if joining a livestream counts, I’m okay.
  2. Updating the trello board one week (obv)
  3. Still waiting on feedback from a few readers of my middle-grade novel, so I haven’t started its revision

And that’s not counting the hours and hours I spent mindlessly browsing facebook or ‘playing’ the fb not-a-puzzle-game Hero Wars.


Isolation update:

I am doing my dayjob from home — but it’s a new project with a lot of moving parts where I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I’ve done a fair amount of cooking lately — pasta, stew, boxes with directions on the back. I’m surprised I haven’t resorted to stress-cleaning yet. But, I did find a pressure washer because my sidewalk needs it. Maybe this weekend?

Minor confession. Remember last week’s post where I said a lovely walk between dayjob and writing helped break everything up? Well… I sprained my ankle on Saturday, so I’ve unfortunately been forced to slack on the couch this week. But, hey, it’s been cold and rainy, so I don’t think I’m missing too much, besides the step-count.

I’ve been sleeping better, although I’m pretty sure it’s getting used to the stress, not decreasing my stress. But, hey, I’m great at binge reading when I’m stressed.


As all the experts are saying, be patient with yourself if productivity or creativity is on hold from the stress. Figure out what you can do, and make sure to leave some time to bring yourself joy — or at least distract yourself from the stress for a bit.


How are you holding up?

* Or, if you want, I did actually add a donation button over on the side. If you actually find this blog helpful and worthwhile, plus have the spare cash, I’ll give a shout out to my first sponsor.

I’m torn between, “other people are more deserving” and “I should value my own time and work”. Hence why it’s been up for months and I’m just now mentioning it. In a tiny aside. At the end.

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 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?

It’s Okay To Write In Layers

I’m an unlikely person to compare writing to painting.

I’ve confessed in the past, but my imagination is far more conceptual than it is sensory. Imagery is almost more of flavors to my mind than a movie played out in my head.

To make up for this, I have a Pinterest board for all my characters, settings, and clothing. (I should probably make one for meals). I do a google image search on actors or models (I try to avoid non-public figures, because they haven’t volunteered to have their likenesses used in media, and I feel a bit stalker-y even thinking about it.) Then, I just keep looking until I see an actor or place that looks ‘right’ to me.

Because of this, my writing can get sparse on description. Well, I describe the main character’s emotional state, and physical reactions, and mental calculations. But? It’s all quite a bit in her head and not so much outside of her.

So, to avoid my plot happening in a descriptionless void — otherwise known as ‘white room syndrome’ — I end up writing in layers.

Fortunately for my dreams of being a writer who creates breathtaking worlds, even experienced writers have confessed to writing in layers.

You start off with your draft looking sparse and clunky. (or over detailed in the main character’s head) Then? You despair of ever measuring up to the writers you love.

But that’s because, to quote Victoria Schwab:

(Twitter)Victoria/V.E. Schwab:
That's because a finished book has, say, 30 coats of paint. But when you write, you can only put down a single layer of paint at a time.

You can't even fathom how many coats of paint are in the finished product. You can only see the top one. It seems like one coat. That is the lie.

Each and every draft, every revision, every polish is a coat of paint. Focus on putting down one coat at a time.

And she’s right.


Several months ago, I went to a “paint bar” with my cousin. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a bar where you reserve your table, and at the set time, a teacher leads you through creating your own version of the painting of the night.

Sort of like watching Bob Ross, only they have all the materials ready for you, and they’ve got plenty of snacks and drinks to keep you going.

Morgan’s attempt

That painting I made all those months ago? The instructor showed us how to fuzz out the reds and oranges, giving a haze that suggested leaves. But when I tried? I couldn’t get the technique right and found myself adding far more detail than the sample image held.

Neither way is right, but the parts have to blend and meld and hold consistent. A painting where portions are in crisp clarity, and others are a fuzzy blend of colors, when done without skill or a plan, will look amateur and unpolished.

Luckily, this painting isn’t something I plan on trying to sell. Plus, I only had 3 hours to get it right. With my writing, I get a lot more chances.

I recently sent off my first chapter to my new mentor. I thought it was ready for prime time, but with her fresh eyes? I can see where some parts of my story aren’t crisp. I can see where the colors aren’t blended properly.

Getting the balance between colors on a canvas is a lot like getting the balance between backstory and plot, detail and background.

So, I’m editing my manuscript. AGAIN.

I do worry that I won’t be able to take all these lessons and attempts and turn them into a streamlined process. But? The only way to find out is to finish, then try again. And I’m determined to create a world that even the most visual-minded reader will find entrancing.


Are you a visual reader or writer?

If so, what do you find yourself layering into your writing? Or struggling to connect with in your reading?

If not, here’s a hug for those of us trying to fulfill the expectations of the visual-reader. Let me know I’m not alone.