Tips on Setting and Achieving Goals: A Writer’s Schedule

Posted on 30. Sep, 2015 by in Blog, Writing Tips

If your writing class has finished and you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to stick to your goals without the structure of weekly assignments, here are some tips for staying on track.

Setting Achievable Writing Goals

How do we define what is achievable? How many words or pages are an appropriate goal? The answer depends primarily on your schedule, and what you are willing to push yourself to do. When I first began writing full-time, twenty years ago, I was newly-married and living with my husband in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I couldn’t get a work visa (we were there for his job) and I only knew two or three of the other wives so my day was my own. I set myself a goal of 5,000 words a day. 5,000 words! That seems an enormous amount to me today but, back then, I had no kids, no pets, no other family around and a minimal social life, so why not? And, of course, there were no cell phones, no internet – no electronic interruptions apart from the phone on the wall (which never rang)! No cable TV either; even the few TV stations broadcast in Malay. I don’t remember if I wrote precisely that word-count every day, but I did finish my first novel (which went in a drawer and was later joined by others).

The point is, what constitutes an achievable goal is greatly affected by how full your life is. On top of that, if – or when – your day or week suddenly becomes unexpectedly congested, you’ll have to adapt your goals accordingly.

Assignment: Think about the next week and the coming months. What is on your schedule? Have you booked a holiday? Decide if you will write during your time away, and how many words you want to produce each day and each week until Labor Day. (Note: Richard Marek, editor, writer and ex-publisher of Dutton, says a page a day is a reasonable goal.)

Staying on Track – Practical Tips

1. Staying connected to the work isn’t always easy. When I’m writing, I keep my laptop in the kitchen where I can’t miss it. I keep it plugged in and open to the file I’m writing.

2. Where do you go to write? Where can you be sure to concentrate? I grab my (fully-charged) laptop, get in the car and drive to a nearby park, thinking about my story on the way. When I get there, I leave my phone on. (I know people who turn theirs off, but I deleted my email from mine so it’s less distracting). If I stay in the house, I can’t concentrate for any length of time. The ever-inviting internet is there, humming and pinging and chirping for my attention. My email in-box (which I’m trying to check less frequently since I realized the emails I receive are actually all about other people’s agendas) is impossible to ignore. Barnes and Noble, the library or the local coffee shop are all good choices, provided you’re not likely to bump into people you know.

3. Create fake deadlines. When you haven’t got a deadline for a class or a publication, it can be very effective to create your own. Get some friends together – even one friend will work – and commit to swapping work on a particular day and time each week.

4. Buddy writing. This is my favorite way to get back on track. If I’ve lost the thread of my story and feel like I’m starting from scratch, I make an appointment to meet a friend for a writing date at a local library with comfy chairs. We spend ten minutes catching up, and then we sit side by side, in silence, and write on our laptops. It works!

Assignment: If this resonates with you, try this: write a sentence underneath your goals that goes something like this…’I do not waste energy berating myself for missed goals. There’s no need and it doesn’t support my writing goals. What’s in the past is behind me, it’s over. What matters is what I do today, and today I will write x words.’

Re-Discovering Excitement for Your Project

One of the biggest and most overlooked obstacles for writers is lack of feedback. No matter how talented the writer, sometimes we look at our work and think it’s ordinary and boring. This is because of the old cliche about familiarity breeding contempt. Our characters and stories are so familiar to us, they can easily seem ordinary and boring. We are so used to them, they DO seem ordinary. We are so used to what’s happening in the story, we’ve read it or thought about it so many times, that it IS boring – to us. But not to someone else who’s reading it for the first time. So here’s the answer: send a portion to a friend and ask for feedback. (Please choose a friend who knows how to tell you what’s working as well as what’s not working, otherwise you won’t re-discover excitement and it could put you off for good.)

Assignment: write the names of 3 to 5 people who are supportive of your work and available to you for feedback. Post these names underneath your goals also, so that it’s simple for you to reach out and get what you need to help you along the way to completion of your project.

Happy writing!

Tessa

Audio Download of Teleseminar: ‘Digital Age Secrets to Write, Promote and Publish Your Memoir’ Available Now in Story Studio

Posted on 11. Apr, 2012 by in Blog, Writing Tips

This seminar works for all types of writing, not just memoir, and if you click on the blog post below this one, you’ll find 3 essential tips and a companion worksheet that will help you get closer to you writing goals.

If you have any questions you’d like to ask, please post them in the Reply box or send them via email to editor@echook.com. We are developing a series of short instructional videos for YouTube and Ustream and your question may be featured in one of these.

To access the mp3, please sign up for Story Studio (top right of page).

Love in the Digital Age, Part Two – How to Write Well About Love: a Ten-Minute Exercise

Posted on 15. Feb, 2012 by in Blog, Writing Tips

Unless you’re a genre writer, it can be tricky to produce good quality writing when your topic is love. Genre readers – those who love their bodice-rippers – have certain expectations in terms of plot and language and writers are expected to fill them. That’s nice and simple. For mainstream or literary writers, however, it can be time-consuming and difficult to write in a fresh way about love.

Here’s an example from ‘ Godsend: A Love Story for Grownups’ by NYT bestselling author Dalma Heyn and Richard Marek, of a description that works:

“Thick brown hair laced with strands of whitish gray makes the grown man roaming around the store’s kayak department look, at first, like a sun-bleached teenager. Pale blue eyes stand out against a tan. An athletic, fit body adds to an impression of a life spent outdoors. He’s not prematurely gray, he’s middle-aged–an important point, since it opens the field to women his own age, older or younger. He’s employed–as evidenced by the manila envelope clutched under his arm and the collection of pens and pencils poking out of the pocket of his fleece Patagonia jacket. Interested in his work, clearly, from a tell-tale, if cliched, pencil over his ear. A writer or an editor, no doubt. Smart, then, which is also important. No wedding ring, which is most important.

“He’s got his eye on a blonde woman in the skiing section. This is also relevant. For, while any unattached, ambulatory, attractive hetersexual male would do, Evan Cameron is a hunk: an athletic, brainy hunk actively looking for love. We have a catch here, not just a candidate.”

Excellent stuff!

Why does this work? First of all, the voice is strong. Someone is telling us about Evan, and that means there’s a story already in motion.

Secondly, it’s humorous. He’s ambulatory. Hooray!

Thirdly, he’s an editor or writer, so he’s intelligent and attractive – the type of character highly likely to appeal to mainstream and literary readers.

Fourthly, despite his intelligence (and, we surmise, a healthy dose of sensitivity), he’s got his eye on a blonde woman in skiing. So not only is he ambulatory, he’s looking for love and ready to pursue this woman. Who doesn’t want to read something intelligent about this age-old chase?!

So here’s the exercise: spend a few minutes thinking about one of your own ‘chase’ experiences. Remember where you were, what was said, how you felt. Then pick a character (real or imagined). Write a list of five attractive physical traits and five appealing character traits, such as sensitivity, generosity, sense of humor – whatever appeals to you. Write for ten minutes, without stopping, and describe your character.

To find out more about Evan Cameron and the details of his chase, you can buy the eBook on Kindle. It’s reduced to 99 cents ON KINDLE NATION.

And Now for Something Completely Different: Visual Story Prompts as You’ve Never Seen Them Before

Posted on 13. Dec, 2011 by in Blog, Writing Tips

We all know writing exercises are good for us, just like practicing scales on a piano, but when was the last time you wrote to a prompt? Have you got ten minutes to spare? If so, start something new – and powerful – by responding to the new prompts by Miggs Borroughs, Laura Wilk, Alice Shapiro and Joelle Sander in Story Studio. They work for fiction or memoir and, we promise, you will never have seen story prompts quite like them. Sign up for Story Studio on top right of home page or HERE.

Video Chat: 3 Essential Tips & Handouts – How to Write & Publish Short Memoir. Available Now in Story Studio.

Posted on 09. Dec, 2011 by in Blog, Press/Events, Writing Tips

Sign up to Story Studio for exclusive access to a one hour video chat with 3 essential tips for writing (and 3 essential tips for publishing) short memoir with Tessa Smith McGovern, founder and editor of eChook Digital & teacher at Sarah Lawrence College. Also, two handouts and a ‘Where-am-I-Now’? worksheet for you to print and complete which will help you reach your writing goals. Sign up top right of home page or HERE.

Writers, Make This Exercise Count – a Prompt to Inspire Your Most Powerful Prose

Posted on 18. Nov, 2011 by in Blog, Writing Tips

If the end of the world was nigh and you only had one piece of paper, torn out of a blank-paged journal, and an almost-empty pen – what would you write about?

It might seem obvious, but there are so many things we can choose to write about, it’s easy to forget that readers want to read about what really matters. What is that, for you? What is the one experience that, if you were to scribble word after word on the page, without even realizing it, you’d find you’d stopped breathing?

If nothing from your own life seems to fit the bill, imagine a character. Decide her/his age, name, hometown, personality traits, situation. What might be the single big event that really mattered to this character?

And then describe this event – or a moment during it – as the event unfolds. Don’t describe the character’s response or how he or she felt, just record in detail what happens. Imagine your eye is a camera, and simply report what can be seen.

Some of your most powerful material can be written this way, and it doesn’t have to be long.

Also, if you’re interested in writing and publishing short memoirs, you might like to bookmark this free online chat:

Save the Date: ONLINE How to Write and Publish Short Memoir, Wed, December 7th 2011 @ 3pm ET

(Ed’s Note: if you aren’t able to attend on the day, don’t worry, the video of this chat will be posted in Story Studio. Sign up on top right of home page.)

Award-winning author, founder of eChook and teacher at Sarah Lawrence College Tessa Smith McGovern will be chatting about what it takes to write and publish a short memoir. She’ll answer your questions live at 3 p.m. ET. at booktrib.com and discuss her three essential memoir-writing tips.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer, occasional journaler, or if you’ve never thought you could write something before, stop by, ask a question, and be entered to win lovely eChook prizes.

Where: booktrib.com
When: Wednesday, December 7 @ 3pm
RSVP: memoirchat@booktrib.com

Save the Date: ONLINE How to Write and Publish Short Memoir, Wed, December 7th @ 3pm ET

Posted on 11. Nov, 2011 by in Blog, Press/Events, Writing Tips

Award-winning author and founder of eChook Tessa Smith McGovern will be chatting about what it takes to write and publish a short memoir. She’ll answer your questions live at 3 p.m. ET. at booktrib.com and discuss her three essential memoir-writing tips.

Whether you’re a seasoned writer, occasional journaler, or if you’ve never thought you could write something before, stop by, ask a question, and be entered to win lovely eChook prizes.

Where: booktrib.com
When: Wednesday, December 7 @ 3pm
RSVP: memoirchat@booktrib.com

How Prose Writers Can Write for Video & Film: Gigi New, Screenwriter and Nick Sadler, Director/producer

Posted on 08. Nov, 2011 by in Blog, Writing Tips

When I first met Gigi New, I sent her my short story collection, “London Road: Linked Stories” so she could assess which one lent itself most readily to being adapted into a short script.

While she was reading, I pondered the possibilities. The stories focus on one day in the life of residents of a halfway house in London, highlighting a moment in each character’s life. Would it be the first story, “When Janice Bailey Walked”, about a woman who makes her way to the halfway house on the morning of her release from prison? Or the one about Bitty, a woman who’s certain her American lover is about to end their relationship? Or maybe Isobel, the delicate and unbalanced daughter of a West End theatre actress who just wants to go home?

It turns out that my screenwriter’s senses are woefully undeveloped. As a short story writer, I approach fiction through that slap-in-the-chest moment that causes a character to stop dead in their tracks. Sometimes I hear a character say something outrageous and that’s the first line of a new story. Every now and then the bottom drops out of my world and a summary sentence appears in my head, the only buoy that keeps the moment afloat. Sentences like that generally kick off a new story. * rueful smile *

So, it’s a good thing that Gigi New knows her stuff. Her response to the dramatic possibilities for my short stories was a complete surprise to me. If you’d like to know what she thinks of your short stories, read more about Gigi HERE.

If you’re interested in producing your own short films or webisodes, why not give it a go? It’s cheaper than ever to produce your own work and a great way to create an effective calling card for the new networks springing up in NYC and LA who are looking for new writers. (More to follow on that topic.)

To learn how to film your own writing, visit hot young director Nick Sadler HERE.

‘Writing for Digital Media’ at Sarah Lawrence College

Posted on 23. Aug, 2011 by in Blog, Press/Events, Writing Tips

If you live in the New York area, Tessa is teaching at Sarah Lawrence College this fall (Sept 2011). Details and sign up link below.

Writing for Digital Media

Fridays: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
September 30 – October 28
5 sessions; Tuition: $280
Register online»

In this workshop we’ll explore the multiple platform options for writers today, both paid and free, from iPhones to tablets to Web-based writing, and the differences between long-form and short-form writing. Short creative writing—fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and essay—has developed into a distinct form with its own specific demands. People are reading anywhere and everywhere, and distractions are rife—how can writers produce work that captures their attention from the first sentence and holds it till the last?

To get the words flowing, we’ll read stories that have been published by various digital platforms and write some of our own. We’ll consider best practices on Facebook and Twitter, and how authors can make effective use of social media.

There are no prerequisites for this class, but writers should come ready to embrace new ideas, produce new writing, and offer and receive productive critiques. Please bring your laptops.

Tessa Smith McGovern is a short-story writer whose numerous publication credits include the Connecticut Review and the English Arts Council at the Southbank Centre, London. She is founder and editor of eChook Digital Publishing, which publishes short-story collections on multiple platforms: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Nook, and Kindle, as well as original Web-based stories at echook.com. The stories—memoir, fiction, and essays—have been read by thousands of readers in 94 countries. eChook has six million impressions on Facebook and 500 Twitter followers.

Registration open now for ‘Writing for Digital Media’ at Sarah Lawrence College

Posted on 20. Jul, 2011 by in Blog, Press/Events, Writing Tips

If you live in the New York area, Tessa is teaching at Sarah Lawrence College this fall (Sept 2011). Details and sign up link below.

Writing for Digital Media

Fridays: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
September 30 – October 28
5 sessions; Tuition: $280
Register online»

In this workshop we’ll explore the multiple platform options for writers today, both paid and free, from iPhones to tablets to Web-based writing, and the differences between long-form and short-form writing. Short creative writing—fiction, nonfiction, memoir, and essay—has developed into a distinct form with its own specific demands. People are reading anywhere and everywhere, and distractions are rife—how can writers produce work that captures their attention from the first sentence and holds it till the last?

To get the words flowing, we’ll read stories that have been published by various digital platforms and write some of our own. We’ll consider best practices on Facebook and Twitter, and how authors can make effective use of social media.

There are no prerequisites for this class, but writers should come ready to embrace new ideas, produce new writing, and offer and receive productive critiques. Please bring your laptops.

Tessa Smith McGovern is a short-story writer whose numerous publication credits include the Connecticut Review and the English Arts Council at the Southbank Centre, London. She is founder and editor of eChook Digital Publishing, which publishes short-story collections on multiple platforms: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Nook, and Kindle, as well as original Web-based stories at echook.com. The stories—memoir, fiction, and essays—have been read by thousands of readers in 90 countries. eChook has six million impressions on Facebook and 500 Twitter followers.

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