~By Megan Litwin
A former K-2 teacher, I’m a big fan of schedules and routines. I know how important it can be to have a structure to the day you can count on, yet one that also leaves room for organic detours. Schedules can be powerful - and comforting - for children and adults alike.
Of course, life hasn’t made it easy to keep to any sort of schedule lately. But this January, I felt determined to start off on the right foot. 2022 brings with it my debut picture book, and I could not be more excited! At the same time, that means I’ve found myself with extra balls to juggle and new roads to navigate: a website, a wonderful co-marketing group, planning for events and school visits. All very good things indeed. But all NEW things, too. Now, besides time to write (to daydream, draft, revise, and more), I need a chunk of time just to keep up with being an “author.” No matter where any of us are on this journey, there is a certain amount of attention that needs to be paid to the business side of things.
But how to make time for these different roles, without dropping any balls or feeling frazzled?
I needed a comfortable routine I could count on.
First, I thought about the time frame of my work day (something that looks different for everyone). My best work hours are absolutely when my kids are in school.
Then, I thought about the flow. I knew I wanted to fiercely protect my writing time, no matter what got thrown my way each day. So actual butt-in-chair writing is the morning’s first work. I’ve committed to at least one hour a day for that. Or more! But setting a realistic minimum helps me stay true to that goal. If I’m in the groove and really deep into the work, that could stretch by hours – and I love when it can. Or I might write for just that hour and then do something else writing-related, like critiques. There is a certain amount of open-endedness built in. And a whole lot of morning coffee…
No matter how it’s going, by the time lunch rolls around, it’s time to switch gears to author business. Choosing ONE focus per day helps, and that focus varies with deadlines and such. I might work on my newsletter, write reviews, or make pins on Canva (where I definitely can fall down the rabbit hole…). But when these tasks are not creeping into my writing/craft time, I actually enjoy them!
After the writing and author work, I scheduled some reading time. Yes, I said “scheduled reading” – because it’s important to me, and my routine should reflect that. I might read a new pile of picture books, some poetry, or a beautifully crafted chapter book. My children get home around 2:30, so scheduling my reading to coincide with that allows me to model my commitment to reading AND encourages them to join me with their own books. Win-win!
And finally, we all have many more roles and responsibilities other than writer/author/reader. I might have an appointment, get called to substitute teach, or have a sick child. And even on a perfectly organized work day, it is my role as Mom that is most important to me, and that one requires most of my attention once my kids are home. At that point, I tuck the work away and promise to return to it tomorrow, just like I would if I were leaving the classroom or office.
Schedules work best when they are flexible structures. After an inspirational virtual webinar with Bethany Hegedus at the Writing Barn, where she talked about setting goals for each quarter of the year, I realized that maybe schedules could also be seasonal structures. I decided to call this a WINTER work schedule, and I already felt a lot less pressure to make it perfect. It may change when spring arrives, and then change again to fit the cadence of my summer days. But it suits me right now. It makes me feel full and warm – because I am making space for what matters to me, day in and day out, as this new year begins.
And…it is an acronym!! Because, after all, I’m forever-at-heart a primary school teacher!
A WARM Winter Work Schedule:
No time slots. No word counts. No pressure. These are simply the daily roles I want to spend time on, and in this order.
What kind of an overarching structure works for YOU? What does your “winter writing season” look like? I hope it is warm and wonderful and full of whatever you need…right now.
Megan Litwin is a children's book author and regular contributor for 24 Carrot Writing. Her debut picture book TWINKLE, TWINKLE, WINTER NIGHT, illustrated by Nneka Myers (Clarion Books) will hit the shelves October 2022. To learn more about Megan visit her at www.meganlitwinbooks.com/.
~ by Amanda Smith
The sweet time between Christmas and New Year is when I usually ponder writing goals: What worked the previous year? What didn’t? How far did I come? Where am I heading? And my trusty bullet journal serves both as memoir and roadmap.
In preparing my bullet journal for the new year, I wanted to write the year 2022 for my cover page in a unique way. Last year I had handwritten it using brush pens, which was fine, but I felt that the new year deserved some more flair. So, after playing around a bit, I landed on something I’ve never done before – Zentangle.
Using my inspiration quote for the year, I knew I wanted something botanical, and after using WordArt to set the outline of my numbers and googling some Zentangle designs, I set to work. It took some time to find my rhythm, but I finally figured out the scale of the design and the limits of my chosen font and everything went fine and dandy with that first two and half the zero.
But all of a sudden, a little flower decided to jump the outline.
“Huh,” I said.
“Why are you squashing me like this?” asked the flower.
I sat back and stared at that rebel flower, the sharp ends of its petals stubbornly poking outside the soft rounded line. Maybe it had a point. Maybe it didn’t have to be all neatly contained within the oval line of the zero. What if the flowers bloomed outside the lines of the other twos?
I loosened my design. And I listened to the flowers. And I watched them grow and BLOOM!
And as I worked, I thought about my goals and hopes and dreams for this year. To reach past limits. To listen to my art. And to Bloom!
As you think and plan your writing goals for the new year, I want to encourage you to do the same:
During the month of January, Annie, Kelly, and I will be posting our yearly goals into the 24 Carrot Writing Goals tab. Take a look (you can also see my complete, blooming 2022 zentangle there) and then set your own goals and dreams for this year. And be sure to post them somewhere you will see them often.
Together, let’s burst out of the constraints this last year or past habits might have placed on us. Let’s become green-thumbed curators of our vibrant, fragrant story-gardens.
Guest post by Francine Puckly
A little over a year ago I made the very difficult but necessary decision to retire from 24 Carrot Writing after five wonderful years. I have missed the camaraderie with my friends and co-founders, and I’m excited to be invited back this week to talk about what I hold near and dear — reimagining creative visions, establishing long-term plans, and setting tangible, immediate goals.
Each new year I take several hours (or sometimes a luxurious whole day!) to celebrate the concluding year’s accomplishments and reassess my goals for the year ahead. In the summer of 2019, I saw a large gap in my September calendar approaching — my kids would both be departing for college while at the same time my husband was heading out of town on business. Rather than pack the days and evenings with hikes and dinners with friends (oh, so tempting!), I trusted my gut to take that time for some extensive reflection. I spent four solid days at home — all to myself — to reexamine my writing vision. What I realized during that block of time was that I had become a little too comfortable with my routine and wasn’t exactly thrilled with how I was spending my writing time.
I gathered the nerve to make several pronounced changes to my commitments. While it was scary to be unmoored from what was comfortable and familiar, I created an avenue for new opportunities to seep in. And seep they did! I had additional novel-writing time and took on a freelance editing gig in June that led to a full-time writer/editor position in December, but the biggest shift was that I found myself hired by a publisher to write and submit an entire manuscript in seventeen days!
The work-for-hire pursuit would not have come about if I hadn’t cleared ample space for it. I was e-introduced to the editor in May, and after an initial video interview, she asked me to submit several writing samples for a couple of different book ideas. We went back and forth several times, during which time I submitted additional samples, incorporated editorial feedback and provided revisions. The editor pitched the project to the editorial team, they authorized it, and we set off on our own version of Operation Warp Speed. (For more details of that process and my takeaways, see Lessons from a Seventeen-Day Book Sprint.) Because I redirected my efforts and reset my long-term goals, The Word-a-Day Vocabulary Workbook, not even a thought seven months ago, hits bookstores today!
The poet, Wendell Berry, said it best. “The life we want is not merely the one we have chosen and made. It is the one we must be choosing and making.” What life will you be choosing and making in 2021?
Here’s what I wish for all creatives this year (beyond health and well-being): Before you set your goals, may you have plenty of time for self-reflection. May you have the courage to make the necessary changes in your life that will bring joy, surprise, and authenticity to your creative endeavors. And may you trust yourself — always — because, deep down, you know what’s best for you.
Warmest best wishes for a joyful writing year!
Francine Puckly’s debut book, The Word-a-Day Vocabulary Workbook (Adams Media), is an entertaining nonfiction blend of 365 obscure words, amusing word trivia, and thought-provoking daily writing prompts, perfect for writers who need to get their creative juices flowing each day. It hits stores near you Tuesday, January 12, 2021.
You can find Francine online at francinepuckly.com, on Facebook at Francine Puckly, Author, and on Twitter and Instagram @francinepuckly.
~By Amanda Smith
You know those days where you spend an entire day revising a picture book manuscript, making dummies and cutting your manuscript into little strips and studying the dialogue to make sure your characters’ voices are distinct yet consistent?
But at the end of the day nothing looks much different.
Or those days you research agents to query, and after many hours, have nothing more than a list to show?
Do you sometimes feel that drawing up maps or house plans for your novel, or filling out character sheets are wasting writing time, because no actual words are added to your WIP?
A lot of the work we do as writers, cannot be measured in tangible, concrete ways. It is easy to discount these aspects of our work. Yet, all these things are part of the writing journey and we need to acknowledge them as valuable. That is why, at the beginning of this year, I knew I wanted to track my writing progress in a way that included all these aspects of writing.
Enter: The bullet journal.
Wait, hear me out. I’ve also looked at bullet journal blogs and thought What is this chaos? or This seems like a giant time suck. But that is the beauty of a bullet journal: You can make it exactly what you need it to be.
To have a journal that functions for you, there are a few questions to answer:
1. What is the purpose of your bullet journal for you? What do you want it to do?
Some authors, like Kate Messner, use one journal to manage all aspects of their life. If that sounds ideal to you, I encourage you to read Kate’s blog regarding bullet journaling here.
However, I needed something dedicated to writing and writing-related business ONLY. The rest of my life, my children’s schedules and dentist appointments still went in a daily planner. What I needed was a home for all things writing.
2. How decorative do you want it to be?
I like pretty. I buy planners, folders and notebooks based entirely on looks. I want beautiful covers AND decorative pages inside. Very early on in my research I realized that, if left unchecked, the bullet journal, instead of the writing, would become the project. I could easily spend all my time making it pretty, with swirly calligraphy and coloring pages. But that was not the purpose. The journal was to be my tool. I settled on a simple, functional format, with a little pretty on each page. I do not spend more than an afternoon a month to prep the next month’s tracking pages. (I would not recommend setting up your entire journal at the beginning of the year. As you and your journal grow together and get used to one another, you are going to want the freedom to tweak the format.)
Also consider size here. I wanted room to spread out and use sticky notes and notecards, so my journal is 7X10 inches.
3. What do you need in your journal to move you towards reaching your goals?
I took some time over my Christmas break last year to research other writers’ bullet journals and noted which components would be helpful to me. Inspired by M.M Chouinard, I jotted down what I wanted to track in my journal.
Here is where I landed:
A Writing Dashboard with all my projects and in which stage of the writing journey they are - an overall view of all my current projects. I love using sticky notes on my dashboard, because I can easily move projects from the “Drafting” heading to the “Revision” heading as the project moves along.
A place to track yearly and monthly goals. The image shows my monthly goals for September, but I also have a page in the front of the journal where my yearly goals are listed. I check in on those quarterly to see if I am on track.
I like to tally reading with my monthly goals. Some writers have separate book logs in their bullet journals, while others like to use a coloring sheet glued into the journal.
Towards the front of the journal I have a page to track overall progress in my individual projects. For novels I mark progress by scenes. For picture books, I check a box every time I do a revision.
For every month I have a writing log to jot down daily word count. For revisions I write the section/ scene I revised and its changed word count. Notice the celebratory sticker at the end of the month? Don't forget to reward met goals with happy carrots!
On the page next to my writing log, I use Five Things a Day to track other writing related work such as agent research and days spent on querying, critiques, blogs, research, and so forth. Even though I hardly ever fill all five boxes for the day, I do learn a lot from looking back at these pages. I have learned, for instance, that I prefer not to write and revise on the same day.
I have a section designated for monthly blog meeting notes and blog related business. If you do not have a blog, you might want a designated space for website planning and maintenance, or social media strategies.
A grid with sticky notes keeps track of queries for each project. I still keep detailed records in a spreadsheet, but with this tool I know at the drop of a hat exactly where which manuscript is.
Having everything writing related in one place made this a super productive writing and querying year for me. What do you need to track your progress and other writing related notes? I would like to encourage you to take some time over the next few months to come up with a custom-made system that will empower you in your writing journey.
~ By Amanda Smith
Here we are: On the cusp of a new year, and a new decade. As we peek over the rim and catch the first glances of 2020, our breaths catch a little. Our hearts race, because…
it holds scary challenges and huge uncertainties,
it holds dreams, and hopes, and exciting opportunities,
it holds its arms wide open for us to dive in.
Whether you tentatively dip your toes, or dive in with head-first-abandon, knowing where you intend to go, is vital. Take some time during the month of January to program your writing GPS. Plot your calendars, prepare your bullet journals, pin your tracking sheets, and set those yearly goals! Remember to add carrots to keep you motivated.
Oh, life will bring derailments – that is inevitable. It will also bring scenic detours for us to embrace. But when we have our road mapped out, it is so much easier to get back on track.
We posted our 2020 writing goals under the GOALS tab on 24 Carrot Writing. Scrutinize our road maps. Perhaps they'll help you find your own way. Throughout the years we have written many posts about goal setting. Below I have linked some for easy access, but you can find them all under the “Writing Goals” tag to the right of your screen. So read up, have some fun with colored pens, and planners, and chart your way for writing success in 2020.
Annie’s SMART goals: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/the-smart-key-to-your-carrots
Amanda’s goal setting strategy explained: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/a-year-of-goals
Kelly’s handy tracking resource: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/a-24-carrot-writing-goal-worksheet
Amanda’s updated yearly planning and printable resource: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/doing-the-necessary
Annie’s forgiveness clause: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/set-your-writing-goalsbut-allow-for-some-slack
Kelly’s unique monthly plan: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/give-your-writing-the-wrqs
Monica Tesler takes us from goals to tasks: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/new-year-new-goals-now-what
Francine's tools for staying in track: http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/tools-for-staying-on-track
Feel free to browse under http://www.24carrotwriting.com/-blog/category/writing-goals
Bullet journals: https://www.katemessner.com/bullet-journaling-childrens-author-version/
Inside a writer’s bullet journal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiLhM17Kw38
~By Amanda Smith
“This year’s felt like
Four seasons of winter
And you'd give anything
To feel the sun”
- Reason (Unspoken)
When I first heard the opening of this song by Unspoken, everything in me cried, “YES! THIS!”
This year brought more unexpected changes and interruptions to my writing life than any before: unexpected travel, lovely visitors, a left hand immobilized for four months due to a broken wrist, and an extended stint as a long-term substitute teacher. Now, it isn’t all bad.
But it is all busy.
I’m not about to throw a pity party (been there, done that), but I do want to address the reality of months, or years, not turning out the way we anticipated when we first set those shiny New Year’s writing goals.
There had been times like this in my life before, where I couldn’t find space for creativity or writing due to The Urgent pulling at me. There had been years where I had walked away from writing. And the return had been slow and laborious.
This year, amid Nor’easters of life pummeling me, I was resolved. This year, unlike other stormy times, I’d kept my one hand on my writing.
In order to do that, I had to adjust my goals. I am not pushing to finish my novel before the end of the year as I had planned. I am working on smaller projects that can endure interruption with more grace, such as querying and research, revisions on picture books, writing poetry and other shorter pieces. I keep moving forward, even if it is at a snail’s pace.
I keep learning, thinking and observing. I spent most of my immobilized summer reading mentor texts, new publications, and craft books.
I keep active in my writing community. The mere fact that I have a critique group expecting a manuscript from me, drives me to write, or revise. Giving feedback on their work, keeps my head in the game. Connecting with other writers at events, invigorates me, and reminds me of who I am amid the blizzards. And meeting with my monthly accountability group, keeps me setting and checking off teeny-tiny-but-moving-forward-goals.
I keep making space to create.
So coming back will be easier.
So I won’t let go forever.
Because Spring will come.
By Kelly Carey
Every month, according to the 24 Carrot Writing philosophy, I dutifully set both writing goals and craft goals. Every month I hit most but not all of my goals. That’s okay! We have warned against using goals as weapons. Goals are there for motivation.
When I miss a goal, I push it over to the next month. Sound strategy right? I thought so, until I took a look back over the past few months and realized that the same goal kept getting pushed. Why?
The truth is a bit embarrassing.
I’m avoiding the hard goal.
Yup. That’s what I’m doing. I’m feeling proud and organized when I sit down to work, but as a scan through my monthly goals, I’m picking off the easy targets and leaving the more challenging tasks to languish and carry over from month to month.
The goals that keep getting moved to another month are ones I’m most unsure of – much like I put off doing house chores I don’t like. Laundry or vacuuming? I’ll choose laundry every time. You’ll always have clean socks to wear in my house, as long as you don’t wear them shoe-less on my very dirty floors! I was applying this same dodge and avoid technique to my 24 Carrot Writing goals.
This has to stop!
I can’t keep clicking off the easy tasks on my goal list. Every month I set a goal to read mentor texts. I love that task and so every month without fail (and sometimes surpassing my objective), I was able to put a nice thick check mark next to that goal. But the monthly intention to draft a new picture book? Pushed! But I’m a writer? I love writing! Writing should come before reading mentor texts! But the blank page, the self-doubt, the internal critic all made reading a lovely book that you all have already written seem like a much nicer (aka easier) task.
Time to address this blatant goal slacking.
This month I’m picking one super writing goal and one super craft goal and I’m going to underline them – maybe star them – perhaps circle them with a gold pen – and I’m not going to attack anything else on my list until I have hit my super goals every month. I’m actually hoping that those easier, friendlier, can’t-wait-to-do-them goals, which will sit lower on my list, will act as extra motivation. I’ll want to get to those happy place goals, but I’ll have to tackle my super goal first (aka my do-not-pass-go, go-directly-to-them goals!).
I’m a little nervous, but I think it will make me more thoughtful when I make out my monthly goals and I’ll be leaning on my 24 Carrot Writing crew to keep me motivated. I bet I’ll feel fantastic when I hit those super goals and that will be worth tackling the hard stuff first!
Take a peek at your own goals. Set solid, measurable, and challenging goals. And make sure that you are not hiding behind the easy targets on your list like me! If you were, consider highlighting a super goal, a must do goal, and don’t let yourself avoid it.
And now I’m off to do some laundry – just kidding! I’m off to vacuum! Hard stuff first! I’ve got this!
by Francine Puckly
As the Summer Solstice approaches, my mind is churning with a multitude of thoughts and emotions about growth, new beginnings, and the constructive criticism that can derail or redirect our endeavors. I’m excited about the idea that in ancient times the Summer Solstice was once considered the New Year and was both an opportunity to break out of one’s normal routine and a time of merriment and celebration. In present time, the Solstice is roughly the halfway point of the year. A marking of time. A marking of our goals. And for a few of my colleagues, it’s a marking of delayed projects as a result of rejection or requested revisions by industry professionals and critique partners. How we deal with these requests and setbacks will determine how well we stay on track to meet our goals this year.
A few years ago, my daughter ran for office in a student organization she had been part of for several years. In the days leading up to the election results, she had convinced herself that she had lost the election and mentally prepared for the deep and complete humiliation that would inevitably come when her loss was revealed. The morning the election results were to be announced, I asked her how she was feeling. She shrugged. “You know? I’m gonna be okay.” As it turned out, she didn’t lose the election for that particular officer position. But another classmate lost in a different race. This classmate was not prepared to lose and was ill-equipped to gracefully handle the results. Lifelong friendships ended that day. The student resigned from the organization. What had once been a source of great joy for the student quickly turned to poison. Someone needed to tell her, "You know? It's gonna be okay."
Which brings us to publishing and the art of critique and rejection, dear writers. How many times have we received hurtful, soul-wrenching rejections of our work or unanticipated requests for manuscript changes and were tempted to throw it all away? Or we hear of another artist’s success and fume at the injustice? In some cases, if we can be objective, we can see that the artist’s manuscript or project had more potential than what we had offered. Sometimes the other person’s idea is more unique, more fully developed, more polished. Other times we feel cheated. We can burn bridges and claim the world is out to get us. Or if we’re smart, we learn what to do differently so that next time we can win. Sometimes, for whatever reason, it just isn’t our time.
With all this summering and raining and shining, the growing season is upon us. And all gardeners know that momentous growth springs forth after a significant pruning. And we can respond by pruning words and tightening our manuscripts and possibly even pruning our egos as we realize we have more to learn. At this time of great light and idleness, try to approach your projects with enlightenment and consciousness with respect to what needs to be done to move forward. If you’re reeling from the pain of rejection or harsh criticism, look for ways to celebrate the joys of the creative life. Hone your craft with the help of how-to books while you dig your toes in the freshly mown lawn. Attend workshops and free lectures. Stop by book launches to support your fellow artists and learn how authors and illustrators interact with their audiences. Read blog posts and memoirs written by authors who were “elected” this year and try to figure out how to apply their successes to your own words and journey.
Regardless of the origination of Summer Solstice celebrations, a plethora of fire and sun rituals across ancient cultures celebrated light. And in noting lightness, we will be able to release burdens, doubts, and fears. Oh, and rejection.
Now go. Be happy. Bask and grow in the warmth of the sun.
by Francine Puckly
My fellow 24 Carrot Writing bloggers and I just returned once again from the SCBWI New England spring conference. At Kelly’s suggestion a few years ago, we sit down together to list our top takeaways once we return from workshops and conferences. It’s a powerful practice!
I attended many informative workshops this year, but the key takeaway for me was from Ekua Holmes’ keynote address—and specifically the wise words of her mother. Her mother encouraged her not to become overwhelmed by the future and all of the tasks in front of her, but rather just “do the next thing.” This advice has centered me more than I could have imagined, and it fits with Kelly’s idea of the “do-it-today takeaways”—using the conference energy to take quick actions that will give you a boost toward your goals.
I have three big and messy projects in front of me this year, and I’ve been slow to make progress on them. But instead of racing too far ahead on my to-do lists or getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of my projects, this idea of doing the next small action item is simple yet profound.
My three “do the next thing” conference takeaways:
Have you recently attended a conference, a long workshop, or a webinar geared toward your writing and illustrating life? If so, reread your notes. Think about how you can incorporate your newly acquired knowledge by doing the next thing in each of your goal areas.
Don’t wait to take small actions that will propel you toward your goals. As we approach the midpoint of the calendar year, what’s your next thing?
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.
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