Guest Post by Author Monica Tesler
The new year is upon us, and my social media feeds are overflowing with motivational posts about goals. Personally, I don’t typically buy into the new year hype. I figure if there’s something I want to accomplish, why wait for January 1 to get started? This time around, though, I’m on board.
I’m just about to send my draft of the fifth and final book in the Bounders series to my editor, and it feels like a really big deal. Bounders was the book that got me a literary agent and then a publisher. So without a Bounders deadline on the horizon, it feels like starting from scratch in a way.
In other words, it’s a great time for some new goals!
There are all kinds of approaches to goal accomplishment. I developed my approach in an entirely different setting. Before jumping into the writing business, I worked as an attorney. In fact, for many years I did both. I’ll share what’s worked for me goal-wise stretching all the way back to the Monica as a young lawyer days. Give my approach a try, if you’d like, but you’ll probably need to tinker around a bit to find the exact right fit for you. The most important thing is that you find an approach to goal accomplishment that you use consistently and can measure your success over time.
In my view, talking about goal accomplishment is really talking about time management. Reaching a goal is nothing more than a reflection on how you’ve chosen to use your time in the days, months, or years leading up to that accomplishment. So as soon as you set your goal, you need to focus on how to spend your time to accomplish it. That’s where time management’s best friend comes in to play: task management.
It’s critical to understand the difference between goal setting and task management. Goals are big and new years-y. Examples of writing goals may be getting a literary agent, finishing a manuscript, or to take one of my own goals, completing a proposal for a new novel. If you placed any of those goals on your to-do list, though, odds are you wouldn’t get too far. Why? The goals need to be broken down and translated into manageable (read: not overwhelming) tasks.
Let’s take getting an agent for example. Do you have a completed manuscript? If not (and you’re not an established author or a nonfiction author with a platform), this may not even be a realistic goal for you in the near future. But let’s say you’ve written and revised your book, received peer feedback, and think you’re ready to send it out in the world in search of agents. Then what?
In my view, here is the first stage of that goal broken down into steps. Research agents using online tools such as query tracker, reviewing acknowledgements from published books, checking agency websites, etc. Draft a query letter and receive peer feedback, repeat, repeat, repeat. Set up a spreadsheet or other way to track queries and responses. Determine a query method (e.g., batch querying). Send out first wave of queries, making sure you’ve followed each respective agents’ instructions exactly.
Wow! See how many discrete tasks were in that paragraph alone? And that only gets you to the first wave of queries leaving your inbox. You still could be a long way from getting an agent. Personally, I’ve received well over a hundred query rejections. So odds are you’re going to need to go back to the drawing board with query revisions and agent research.
This isn’t a blog post on querying, so I’ll leave it at that. The point is that it’s great to have big goals. In fact, I’m such a fan of big goals, I post them prominently on a large bulletin board in my office. On the practical side of things, though, each goal needs to be broken down into small, incremental parts and placed on functional to-do lists. That’s how you move from goal setting to task management. I remember having “research agents who rep middle grade sci-fi” on my to-do list. When I checked it off, I felt confident that I’d moved closer to my goal of getting an agent.
That’s the key, right? Actually getting things done and feeling accomplished. So first, I break down my goals into incremental tasks. Next, I estimate how much time each task will take. Then the tasks make their way into my task management system.
Here are the basics of my task management system. I generate monthly to-do lists that are separated by category. Currently, my categories are writing, book business, kids (as in my own), and life/domestic management. Writing tasks and most of the book business tasks can be tracked back to one of the goals on my bulletin board. I further break down my to-do lists at the beginning of each week (i.e., a weekly list) and then again at the beginning of each day. My daily lists typically have no more than 4-6 entries, and I more often than not check every item off by the end of the day.
If my approach resonates with you, give this a whirl. Set 2-4 writing/book business goals, then spend some time breaking each goal into tasks. For each task, indicate approximately how long the task will take and determine a sensible task order. Assess your task lists and how they realistically match up against your other time commitments (family, domestic, other work, self-care, etc.), then determine what you think you can reasonably accomplish in one month and generate a monthly to-do list. If you’d like, you can further streamline and create weekly and daily lists like I do.
At the end of the month, make sure you take some time to assess how you fared with your to-do list. Don’t worry if everything doesn’t get done. Figuring out how long things take (not to mention assessing how you’re actually using your time) is a process. The important thing is that you’re able to track your progress.
Good luck! And happy writing!
Monica Tesler is the author of the Bounders series, a middle grade science fiction adventure series from Simon and Schuster. The most recent title in the series, The Heroes Return, released in December 2018. Monica lives outside of Boston with her family.
If you'd like to learn more about Monica and her books visit her at her website at monicatesler.com, on Twitter @monicatesler, on Instagram @monicatesler or on Facebook /monicateslerwrites .
If you would like to purchase the most recent Bounders series book, The Heroes Return, use these links: Amazon/The Heroes Return, Barnes & Noble/The Heroes Return, or IndieBound/The Heroes Return.
By Kelly Carey
We are abuzz at 24 Carrot Writing, as one of our founders, Annie Cronin Romano, prepares for the launch of her debut picture book, Before You Sleep, due out October 9, 2018 from Page Street Publishing.
I’d like to take this time to reflect on the integral part Annie has played in our writing group and on the way our group has supported Annie on her writing journey. My purpose is to highlight the benefits of joining a writing group, encourage you to become an active and fully engaged member of a writing tribe, and to point out the significant advantages, for all writers, regardless of where they are on the writing path of belonging to a writing community.
I’m Just Starting. What Could I Possible Offer?
When our founding mother, Francine Puckly, first gathered our group of four together and suggested we start 24 Carrot Writing, I wondered what a group of barely published, novice writers, in the infancy of their writing careers could offer each other let alone a larger audience. Luckily, Francine drowned out those concerns with her dogged determination that we had big things to contribute both to each other and to the KidLit industry.
At the very beginning, we offered each other companionship as we set out on our writing voyage. And this has made all the difference in helping us persevere in the face of form rejections, harsh critiques, and self-doubt. Our shared goal, a desire to be successful KidLit writers, meant we brought a unique understanding of how it feels to struggle with plot, manage word count, construct a query letter, and suffer the pain of form rejections. We knew exactly how significant a completed first draft was, we celebrated a revision break through with appropriate verve, and we cheered raucously when publishing success found our group. Our non-writing friends and family were supportive, but our group of fellow writers offered a kinship only they could bring to the table.
That kinship is critical in a career that so often requires you to be alone with your laptop. If you are fortunate, your inner voice can help sustain you along your writing path. But, I would argue that the fresh and often kinder voices of trusted fellow writers are a necessary and crucial component to writing success.
Francine was right. No matter where you are on the path, or how new your journey is, if you want to write, if you are determined to become a KidLit author, then you have an impactful role to play in a group of like-minded writers.
We Can Cover More Ground Together
We could all agree that a single person cannot read every new KidLit book; devour every article in a trade journal; take every workshop; attend every book event; and connect with every single agent, editor, librarian, bookstore owner and KidLit author in our industry. But, if you commit to a group of writers, allow them to get to know your style, show them your manuscripts, talk openly about your writing strengths and weakness, then you will have a team helping you accomplish your goals.
Annie has recommended books that are great comp titles for Amanda’s PB. Francine has forwarded marketing articles to Annie, weeks after her contract was signed, because she knew Annie would benefit from the information. Just this week, Amanda sent me the names of two editors she felt might be a great match for a manuscript I have on submission. There is no doubt that our writing group is giving each of us extra writing focused eyes and ears to help us on our individual journeys.
We are looking out for each other, for our manuscripts, for our submissions, for our writing, and offering targeted advice and help. These informed knowledgeable connections that we bring to each other are only possible because we have freely and candidly opted to share our writing journey. You can certainly go it alone. But, a tribe will facilitate your path to success and you will reach your goal faster and with more joy along the way if you invite others on your trip.
The Friction of Give and Take Sparks Success
As Annie launches her book next month, our writing group will be out in force to help her set up her event, offer a knowing and encouraging wink, and ensure that this special moment goes off without a hitch. For months, we have acted as a sounding board as Annie worked through the steps of planning the arrival of her new book. We offered suggestions, forwarded marketing opportunities, shared Annie’s news on our personal Twitter and Facebook accounts, and helped make sure that Annie heard positive and encouraging voices when concerns or doubts surfaced.
In return, Annie has given us reason to celebrate. We are motivated by her success to send out queries with hopeful abandon. Sometimes the phrase “success breeds success” can have negative connotations, in the case of a solid writing group, I would argue that “success motivates success”. This is a rough rejection filled industry and feeling connected to Annie’s success has given each member of her writing tribe a burst of sunshine.
Having a front row seat to Annie’s success also means we have seen firsthand how a launch works. We may have been helping Annie with her book, but she has given us the opportunity to learn and prepare for our own launches. I know I am grateful that when my debut launches in 2020, I will have been a part of Annie’s journey and she will be a solid advisor who I will rely on.
Don’t Hike Alone
I love hiking because it offers the joy of communing with nature, the gorgeous vistas along the path, and the euphoric feeling of accomplishment when you summit at the end of the trail. But, I have never opted to hike alone. That seems scary and dangerous. So why would I ever choose to travel my writing path alone?
You could choose to hike into the woods, carrying everything you think you could possibly need in your own backpack. When you happen upon a stunning vista, I suppose it is glorious even if you have no one to share it with. But I would argue that the ability to share revelations, successes, and the burdens in your pack make the journey easier and more enjoyable. That is exactly what we did and why 24 Carrot Writing has become a growing and dynamic group.
The benefits of sharing your writing career are vast. Your writing tribe will keep you motivated, remind you to take advantage of workshops, greet you at conferences, buoy you when you hit writing walls, and celebrate your success.
If you are a part of 24 Carrot Writing – congratulations! You have recognized that you have something significant to offer a writing community, you have a team supporting your writing journey, and you will feel the success sparked by our collective energy. I’m so happy you decided not to hike alone!
by Francine Puckly
For years I have been revising and polishing one of my manuscripts in order to get it ready for an agent or editor. It’s been a struggle, a journey sprinkled with pockets of both excitement and disillusionment. I’ve had it critiqued numerous times by my critique group members and various other beta readers. I’ve also paid for 10-page critiques, first page critiques, query critiques, more 10-page critiques and back around again. This past weekend I attended a regional conference and had two more industry professionals weigh in on the manuscript. They were in violent agreement. I continue to miss the mark.
I read over their feedback several times. I had a two-hour “therapy session” with a writing colleague who is familiar with the manuscript. Then just this morning I pulled out two files of notes from past workshops and conferences—one on Beginnings, the other on Character Development. The file on Beginnings was a slap in the face. There, dated four years earlier, was feedback about my opening chapters—almost verbatim to the feedback I received a few days ago. Nothing had changed.
So I either A) hadn’t learned a thing in four years, B) don’t possess the skill to fix it, or C) am locked into what has already been written and can’t break out of the word trap to fix the problems with the novel. I’m going with option C.
I’m fiddling, not fixing. I’m tweaking, not writing fresh new prose. I’m trying to force stale, overworked characters to fit a pre-determined plot instead of creating fresh, fabulous characters and then sending them (and the reader) on an exciting journey that incorporates character, voice, and setting.
So I’m following Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s lead. I deleted all of the drafts of that manuscript from my hard drive. (Confession: I’m not crazy. Unlike Lynda, I do have them saved to an external drive. But the drive is packed away in the deep recesses of my office closet and not easily accessed.)
How do I feel after deleting five years of work? I’m scared to death! I’ve consumed every piece of chocolate in the house and thought about opening a bottle of wine at 8:30 this morning. (I opted for a decaf earl grey latte…) But I also know deep in my bones that this was the right move. I won't go back to those drafts on the external drive.
I have work to do. An editor I greatly respect suggested a list of novels to study on character and beginnings. I will. I am. I will go back to the drawing board on creating, sketching and really getting to know my characters. And only after I complete those tasks will I sit down and rewrite the story. With renewed vigor. With soulful characters. From scratch.
By Kelly Carey
It’s that magical month of January when an entire year of possibilities lies before you. The perfect time to set your writing goals and become a 24 Carrot Writer.
Remember, to become a 24 Carrot Writer, you need one writing goal and one craft goal each month.
Writing goals ask you to draft a new picture book, revise three chapters of your middle grade novel, complete a character bio on your main character, or outline a plot for your new young adult novel.
A craft goal needs to focus on the business side of writing and can include attending a SCBWI event, taking a writing workshop, reading in your genre, researching agents, or writing a query letter.
For a refresher on setting your two goals visit the 24 Carrot Writing homepage or read http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/two-goals-a-month-lead-to-24-carrot-writing.
To help you stay organized and map out your 24 Carrot goals, you can use the 24 Carrot Writing Goal Sheet.
Here is a blank 24 Carrot Goal Sheet all ready for you to print off and populate with plans for each month, motivating carrots, and a whole crop of 24 carrots for you to earn. Use the link below to download the sheet to your computer.
To use the 24 Carrot Goal Sheet, first document your January goals and motivate yourself with a January carrot.
It might be tempting to go ahead and set goals for the entire year. If you do that, use pencil! Things can pop up, plans can change, and you'll want your writing goals to be flexible. You may wake up on the first day of March with a great new plot idea, and your Writing Goal for March should take advantage of that feeling. On the Craft Goal side, you may find out about a new workshop being offered in June, and that will become your Craft Goal for June.
You may also accomplish more than your two 24 Carrot Goals each month. If you do, that's great! But your 24 Carrot Writing Goals are your golden goals - the ones you do first, jettison last and strive diligently to achieve.
If you hit your monthly 24 Carrot Writing goals, color in the carrots next to that month.
In the example below, both January goals were hit and the writer colored in the carrots next to January. This writer is now a two carrot writer, and has set their February goals, and picked a motivating carrot.
If you miss a goal, just cross out the carrot and move that goal to the next month.
Don’t beat yourself up over missed goals. This industry can be tough enough and there is no need to let a missed goal derail your progress. Each month will bring the opportunity to earn two more carrots.
Keep the worksheet visible as a constant reminder of what you want to accomplish each month.
It’s still January and you have the chance to be a 24 Carrot Writer this year. If you finish the year a 14 carrot writer, or a 10 carrot writer, or a 2 carrot writer, we will be here to celebrate your accomplishment.
Use your 24 Carrot Writing Goal Sheet to keep track of your success.
Now go set those January goals!
By Francine Puckly
Happy New Year from all of us at 24 Carrot Writing! We hope your holiday celebrations were filled with laughter and joy, friends and family, and a little quiet time to reflect on all that you accomplished in 2017. We are excited to have you join us as we seek the possibilities 2018 holds for each of us!
One of my goals for 2017 was to give myself the gift of time to celebrate the holidays (sans guilt) and to muse about opportunities forthcoming in 2018. I spent many long morning walks, as well as afternoon teas, pondering this wonderful but oftentimes frustrating creative life I have chosen to lead.
I dug up two precious nuggets of truth over the many miles I wandered. The first is that I’m wildly inaccurate with my goal estimations as it pertains to the time a project will take. I mean, I’m not even close. I’m way off the mark when I guess at how quickly I can complete everything—a blog, an outline, a chapter, an entire draft. So laying out Gantt charts with detailed deadlines is no longer a practice I choose to embrace. It works for many, many people, but it results in failure for me. The second discovery is that I spend too much time alone. I need to be around people, even if we are all working independently and may never speak to each other. In order to grow contentment and joy in my life, these are my focus areas for 2018.
But what does this mean as I set my goals? It means that it is important to me that I be a writer. That I show up for work every day and take my job seriously. I have scheduled hours of work Monday through Friday. It’s my job. As long as I show up to my job, I will accomplish much. How much? It doesn’t matter this year. I’m just going to go to work everyday and see where it takes me.
And where, exactly, is my place of work? I have plotted out various writing locations that involve seeing other human beings (libraries, cafes, and bookstores). My portable office and daily packing list are ready to go (the-portable-office.html).
Keeping the 24 Carrot Writing categories of Writing Goals and Craft Goals in mind, my work falls accordingly:
2018 Writing Goals:
2018 Craft Goals:
That’s it! It’s simple, it’s thorough, and most importantly, it’s doable!
I wish each of you joy as you set your creative goals and the luxury of time to focus on all that you love!
Happy Goal Setting and Happy New Year!
~by Annie Cronin Romano
As we embark upon what may be the most hectic time of year, writers often find themselves faced with a more stressful than usual tug of war for their creative time. In this season of holiday parties, shopping, wrapping, baking, decorating, and visiting relatives, when does our literary muse get a chance to do her magic? It can be a tremendous feeling of sacrifice and guilt. Particularly for those who manage to write on a regular basis, having your routine potentially interrupted can be unnerving. Some will keep their writing time intact. Come fire or flood, the writing will continue. But for those who may get thrown off track, give yourself an extra special, no-cost gift this season: Compassion. Cut yourself some slack. Allow yourself room to breathe. Get lost in the holidays if you choose. Deck the halls. Eat. Drink. Socialize. And lay off the guilt. January will be here before you know it, and you’ll be setting your writing goals for 2018. Until then, write when you can. And be merry. You deserve it.
Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at 24 Carrot Writing!
By Annie Cronin Romano
Two weekends ago, I went on a writing retreat with three of the four members of my writing group. It had been 20 months since our last one, and planning this one had been a challenge. From nailing down a weekend when all four of us could go (obviously we didn’t succeed there) to finding an affordable, comfortable place to work distraction-free, there were several obstacles to overcome. But it was important to us, as a group, to do this. Why do this? You ask. Good question.
1. There are no “home life” distractions. No one feels compelled to do the laundry, or clean the bathrooms, or rake the yard. Your kids can’t suddenly ask for a ride to the movies. It’s just you and your writing.
2. There are no (or far fewer) time constraints. You don’t have to stop writing in fifteen minutes to prepare dinner for the family or do the grocery shopping. This unrestricted time can free up your creativity and get the ideas flowing.
3. You’re not alone. There’s a group mentality to help maintain focus. You’re all there together for one purpose. I’m a fairly disciplined person, but even I admit that I would be tempted to lounge around, sleep late, read a book, or surf the web if it was just me on a writing weekend. Sure, I’d write. Just maybe not as intensely as I do with others around me who are focused on their work. Having fellow writers with you creates an accountability you might not have if you’re alone.
4. Even the breaks are productive. When we get up to make tea, grab a snack, or just stretch for a few minutes, we often use that time to bounce ideas off each other. We ask each other questions about plot, word choice, and characterization. When writing alone, that’s not possible. But when you’re with fellow writers, you can tap into each other’s writing strengths and knowledge.
All the members of my writing group write fairly consistently at home. But we recognize that doing this intense write-in retreat really helps us get a significant amount of writing accomplished. A group writing retreat can rejuvenate your writing, whether you use it to brainstorm story ideas, plot a novel, revise a story, or free write to move your creativity into high gear. So round up some writing colleagues and organize a retreat of your own. And let 24 Carrot Writing know how it goes!
by Annie Cronin Romano
At 24 Carrot Writing, we believe in the importance of rewarding yourself with "carrots" when you achieve a writing goal, be it finishing an outline, brainstorming book ideas, querying agents, or honing your craft through writing exercises or research. Back in March, I posted a blog sharing some writing-themed carrot ideas (see "Give Yourself a Carrot"). Now, as the holiday season is upon us, here are some more creative suggestions to add to your own wish list or as possible gift ideas for your writer friends. Included are a few repeats from my spring suggestions and some new discoveries!
Like working jigsaw puzzles? White Mountain Puzzles has a few jigsaws with a literary flair. This "Reader's Paradise" puzzle will keep you busy with 1000 pieces of literary atmosphere.
Love candles? There are candles out there perfect for writers and book lovers alike.
Check out the options at Gone Reading and
fill the air with writerly aromas.
Check out Red Bubble for a variety of items perfect for any literary enthusiast! They have more than just bookish items, but you can search by keyword to find the perfect gift for writers and readers! Their phone cases are particularly creative.
Book-shaped saucers and plates abound at Gone Reading. When you're settling in for a writing session, this cozy cup and saucer will help get you in the "write" mindset! (Sorry. I couldn't resist!)
At Uncommon Goods, you'll find an array of gifts for writers, from literary scarves to story cubes. This writing prompt book, "642 Things to Write About," got positive reviews from those who purchased it. And all writers know that sometimes we need a little idea boost to get the ink flowing.
If you're looking for clever t-shirts or mugs with writer-ly or bookish sayings, you'll find them at Cafe Press. You'll also find some other unique gift ideas, like this tongue-in-cheek writer's clock.
Want some bling? At The Writers Store, you'll find vintage typewriter necklaces and bracelets. A perfect nostalgic gift!
Many writers like to decorate their laptops, notebooks and journals with stickers that reflect their personality. Find some unique ones at Red Bubble and Cafe Press.
Need some liquid courage to get you through a rough patch in your revision? Celebrating a full request? If Irish Whiskey is your thing, check out Writers Tears, available at Walsh Whiskey Distillery
and other online liquor retailers.
Don't go for the hard stuff? Steele Wines might have what you'd
prefer. Their "Writer's Block" label is available in several varietals, including Malbec, Roussanne (shown here), and Pinot Noir. And
if you're still waiting on that first royalty check, their prices
won't break the bank either! Cheers!
At Lithographs.com, they make literary-themed gifts ranging from tote bags
and t-shirts to posters, scarves, and even temporary tattoos! With over 200 titles
to choose from, including classics, contemporary, children's, and young adult,
you're bound to find a beloved favorite.
I hope you've found some treasures to add to your holiday list.
Or maybe you've discovered some future carrots to reward your
achievements as you meet your writing goals in the coming New Year.
And remember the best gift you can give yourself...
All of us at 24 Carrot Writing wish you a
happy, healthy, and creative holiday season!
by Francine Puckly
For a few years now, I’ve been contemplating hopping on the NaNoWriMo bandwagon. I’ve held off for a number of reasons. First, I compose my initial drafts longhand, pen to paper, which makes tracking word count a bit tricky. Second, it’s No-School-November, a month in which school administrators conspire against writers by slotting in numerous half days or complete days off for everything from parent-teacher conferences to elections to holidays. The final reason, not to be taken lightly, is that immersing myself in an international phenomenon with social media chats, blogs, and the like would most likely make me less productive when I hear that hundreds or thousands of other people are writing faster than I am.
That said, I had been researching my next book on and off for six months and had muddled over the plots, subplots, characters and setting. I was ready to tackle the next novel, and I desperately wanted to have a large chunk of the book on paper before the holiday season hit. There were no good excuses not to dive in.
I decided to customize a NaNoWriMo challenge. As a longhand writer, I determined how many pages I could write in one day. I created a monthly calendar with the goals written in, first by week then by day, with an overarching monthly goal as well. Those goals were all well and good, but I knew I couldn’t go it alone. I’ve tried that. When things get tough, I fall off the writing. First one day. Then another. Then another.
Instead, enter my accountability partner. Now, I probably should have asked her first before I made her my partner, but since we’ve been having weekly phone chats and setting goals together for three or four years, she gladly accepted the appointed position. I asked nothing of her except to receive daily texts stating that I had completed that day’s goal.
Only eight days into my challenge, her presence has saved my writing day three or four times already. My energy is flagging. Small (and big) crises that have hit my life this week would have been excuses to adjust my goals. But my accountability to her is priceless. She responds to every text, congratulating me, encouraging me to keep going. It’s a beautiful thing to be on this journey with her.
If you have aggressive goals for a future project, don’t go it alone. Ask a trusted colleague to be your accountability partner. Everyone benefits from having a cheerleader who understands the game. And the flip side of that, offer to be someone else’s rock for their project.
Hold someone’s hand. Or ask someone to hold yours. You’ll be amazed at the “impossible” things you will accomplish when someone’s waiting for you to check in.
By Francine Puckly
Beginnings. Everyone loves a good beginning. And, no. I’m not talking about the beginning of your novel or picture book, the one the reader sees. I’m leaving that to Annie.(hook-em-into-your-book.html) I’m talking about when you begin anew: take on that new challenge, go after that dream or bucket list item that’s been nagging at you for months or years, or start that new manuscript that you know, deep in your soul, is what you’re supposed to be writing next.
Launching a new project makes us both a little scared and dizzy with excitement. The energy is electrifying.
For a little while, anyway.
But when the meat of the work begins—when you take inventory of the skills you currently lack, but must acquire in order to bring the project or endeavor to fruition—the energy wanes and you are left with the sobering reality that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. It takes courage to continue when we inevitably falter along the path.
I began four new and intimidating projects all in the same week this fall. What fanfare! Bands played, banners waved, and confetti rained down on me as I sprinted toward my figurative playing fields. But that only lasted a few weeks. Because what I did was begin a new historical fiction novel (something I said I would never do because "I don’t know how to write historical fiction”); took on a sewing project for which I have no skills, no pattern and no training; started alto saxophone lessons which has included trying out various reeds and mouthpieces, none of which sound like music but rather just ear-piercing noise and squeaks; and signed up for a Ladies’ Tap dance class when I’ve never danced a jig in my life. The “good for you!” enthusiasm from family, friends and other spectators only carries you so far. At some point you realize, “I really stink.” And the next thought might be, “Maybe this was a bad idea.” Followed quickly by, “Maybe I should quit.”
Energy ebbs and flows. And now that it has ebbed big time, I’ve pondered the following questions: How can we sustain projects when we’re fearful of the next steps and doubt our ability to finish? How do we stare down our fear and intimidation and increase our odds of sticking with a project when the going gets tough?
Here are a few suggestions I’ve put into play.
1. Pull the fear into positive action. I’ve become an expert at recognizing my fear. It makes daily appearances in the form of procrastination, edginess or looking for a quick fix elsewhere such as social media, online shopping, chocolate or whatever else will take away what I’m feeling. One of the quickest ways for me to wrestle it to the ground is to set my timer. For 8, 10, 15 or 20 minutes or whatever, I say, “Don’t think. Just do.” I race toward one unsavory task that I’ve been kicking forward with the clock ticking.
2. Care for yourself.
Wait. What did I just say? Yep, that’s right. Take proper care of yourself physically and mentally. You can’t continue a project if you run yourself into the ground with negative self-talk, or by skipping balanced meals, proper hydration, sleep and exercise. Because this is the first thing out the window for me, I have to track it daily in writing. If I stop tracking, I stop doing. “Have you been walking, Francine?” is the first thing my 24 Carrot family asks me when I’m in a mental and physical slump. It’s rhetorical, of course, because we all know the answer.
3. Seek out support from trusted sources.
A shoulder to cry on is essential. Those cheerleaders in life must be sought out and embraced when you are tackling something new. Likewise, don’t trust a naysayer with what little energy you have left on a project. Pause before confiding. Will this person be helpful or just convince you to quit?
4. Sometimes it’s okay to quit.
What?! Yes, it is okay as long as you quit for the right reasons. Sometimes this means quitting entirely, like I did with the afore-mentioned sewing project. After spending nearly 8 hours on it one day, I wasn’t even close to being done. It was going to be expensive from a financial standpoint, and even more importantly, it was going to be costly from a time standpoint. I decided I would rather write than sew. So I called my favorite seamstress and let her take over. Someday she’ll read my book, and someday I’ll happily sit on her cushions. It’s a win-win for both of us because we’re both doing what we love. Other times we only “sorta” quit. Like I did with a novel a few years back. I loved my characters but after three drafts, I hated the actual story. I knew the project didn’t hold enough joy for me to spend another year or more revising and rewriting until it was polished. So I lassoed those characters and superimposed them into a new plot! Problem solved. I kept what I loved and abandoned the rest.
I’m by no means out of the woods with my three remaining projects. Days when my fear is front and center are exceptionally hard. That’s when I try my best to focus on the basics—respect myself mentally and physically, reach out to friends, and set the timer and force myself to complete something. Anything.
Whatever new project you’re venturing into, take your fear with you but be sure to keep it on a short leash. Throw a few of these tools in your hip pocket and keep going!
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