Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Writing Goals’ Category

Achieving Work-Life Balance in Writing (especially during a crisis)

In Work-Life Balance, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Spaces, Writing Spots, Writing Tips on May 17, 2020 at 7:00 am

 

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services works at home on the couch using a portable lap desk to add variety to her stuck-at-home approach to work-life balance.

During the pandemic crisis, are you stuck indoors without a lot of variety to your office space? Did you use to enjoy mixing working at home with your other favorite writing places?

I don’t like sitting, and I don’t like being in front of a computer—at least for long periods of time. I also don’t like the same sitting spot for hours on end.

So I came up with a COVID desk survival plan. I had to since I write for a living, and I write for fun with the goal to make the writing I want to do—writing novels—full time. It’s a lot of writing, as a result, but I try to balance it with daily exercise—running and lifting weights—and doing social things (or, I used to, now that social time is on Zoom).

Work-Life Writing Balance

How do you achieve balance when you work life and your other life both involve computers?

  • First of all, find several writing spots in the house, such as the desk with the hopefully ergonomic chair, plus the couch with a portable lap desk. (I got mine at Barnes & Noble back in the day when you could physically go into stores.)
  • Set aside certain times for your writing routine, but don’t guilt yourself if you don’t write. I aim for three one-hour sessions a week—but during COVID, I’ve had time to write or edit about 10 hours a week. (I’ve gained extra time from not driving and social distancing).
  • Vary where you write, such as the office, living room and kitchen and find something stimulating in that environment to think about or absorb—such as the grinding of the coffee beans or the way the air feels as time shifts from high noon into the afternoon. (You have to use some imagination here, since we’re all stuck inside, but I do have the option of going out on my patio, and I pretend it’s the park!)
  • Take breaks every few minutes to stretch, or take a mini-walk for a mind refresher. Join a writers group, such as Northern Colorado Writers, and join in on the Zoom tea chats or coffee breaks to get that actual break.
  • Make sure you have free time to do whatever you want that gets you away from the routine, particularly if it doesn’t involve writing.
  • Try writing in a notebook if computers are your normal tool, or vice versa. The switch may cause you to see and write differently—handwriting slows you down, while typing causes you to lose the pen-hand connection and get lost in the writer’s world.
  • Find a new interest or hobby to learn something new or see things from a new perspective.
  • Congratulate yourself when you write when you don’t feel like it. Treat it like a job, even if you’re not working because of the shutdown.

Fair Play in Writing

And remember, it may not be so much of a balance but a matter of sharing the space of work with the space of the rest of life. I like to call it work-life fair play.

Top 7 Writing Tips for 2020

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 5, 2020 at 11:00 am

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To Do lists are a great way to compile top tips, such as for writing.

Do you like To Do lists? I find them to be necessary, but there’s another type of list that I adore—top 5, 7 or 10 lists.

Top lists are great to post on the fridge or keep in a special file, acting as motivation and inspiration triggers, while chore lists are reminders of what still needs to be done.

My top 7 list is gathered from my notes about writing advice and tidbits collected from magazine articles and books, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences. The list is a useful resource for those times when I feel stuck or don’t want to write. It’s also a great tool to know what to look for when hiring a writer.

The tips provide a few ideas for how to make writing a routine and, with the investment of effort and time, a habit. Once a habit, writing feels like a necessity without thinking or agonizing about it. Soon, you’ll eagerly show up for writing (and editing), finding that once you get started, the words will come, even if it’s slow at first. The momentum will pick up and the process will become rewarding, as does the result.

Top 7 Writing Tips

  • Don’t wait for inspiration, but create it. The more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Find a place to write, but don’t make it an absolute. A coffee shop or a home office may be ideal, but be sure to set aside time to be there only for writing and not distractions (which serve as excuses to not write).
  • Set a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three to four times a week. For example, plan writing sessions for a set amount of time, such as one hour, or until a certain word count is reached, such as 500 or 1,000 words.
  • Accept that you are not in total control of your writing. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfection on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down and then revise in a couple of rounds for overall structure, followed by proofreading at the line level.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard and focus on the process instead of the results to make it more fun and enjoyable.
  • Read and to analyze what you read, identifying what works and what doesn’t work and why. Apply what you learn to your own writing.

Make Writing a Habit

As the New Year starts, add to the list additional ways to find the time, motivation and inspiration to sit down and do the work of writing. Soon, it won’t feel like work and will be a habit. What a great way to welcome the year of 2020!

 

Making New Year’s Resolutions Fun

In Goal Setting, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Goals on December 29, 2019 at 11:00 am

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The Christmas tree is reflected in a storefront window, overlapping a coffee tree at the Coffee Tree coffee shop in downtown Loveland, Colo. It’s sparkly and fun, just like New Year’s resolutions should be to make them easier to carry out.

New Year’s Eve is sparkly, bubbly, colorful and fun—and then there’s the countdown.

For me, Jan. 1 is both a letdown and an exciting time. First, the holidays are over, presents are unwrapped, and it seems like a long time to Valentine’s Day (and lots of candy) and even longer to spring.

January is my least favorite month (short days, too much snow) until I remember it’s the month for … Resolutions! I love goal setting because of the whole self-improvement thing, but it’s also a way to accomplish something and to have an excuse for self-reward.

What are your resolutions for 2020? The usual of exercising more, eating less, finding a new job, increasing your reading or learning a new skill or hobby?

A Writing Tangent

My resolutions are around writing—to publish a couple of my novels, to write a short story a month and to do more professional writing. I also want to improve my blog so it’s fun and exciting. This is how I originally started this blog:

Writing is essential to a business to market its products and services, build brands and reach customers.

But is it necessarily something that you want to do?

Sure, that’s all right, but it’s not fun. Why? Because you can read those sentences pretty much anywhere, maybe with a word change or two. As a note, I just went on a tangent off the subject of resolutions, which typically doesn’t make for good writing. Professional writing needs to be straight like an arrow, moving from point to point with enough details while avoiding overwriting.

So back to the point of making and keeping resolutions. Statistics show that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through with their plans. Being part of that group can be exciting and also rewarding by the end of the year.

For those who want to make writing a goal for 2020, for example, can set a schedule for writing, such as a half-hour a day or two times a week. They can find a place to do the writing. And they can reward themselves for accomplishing the goal to continue the momentum.

Focusing on Resolutions

For resolutions in general, here are a few good steps to take:

  • Pick a resolution that makes you feel excited and is something you want to do. Don’t pick something that you think is good for you, like exercising an hour a day when 15 minutes is better to get used to it.
  • Opt for one to three resolutions instead of a long list of everything you ever wanted to accomplish in life. Lists are difficult to manage (I made a 30-item to-do list, and it took four months to get through it). Plus, being selective can help you focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Break the resolutions into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month.
  • Be specific in your goals, such as planning to blog once a week, posting it on the same day to be consistent and build traction.
  • Identify your most productive time of day to work and fit your goals into that time frame, even if it is for a half-hour for three or four days a week. A lot can be accomplished in small chunks.
  • Place a written statement of your goals in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Seeing the resolutions will be a reminder, and even if you are busy at that moment, you can visualize how you will carry them out.
  • Create a checklist of accomplishments toward your goals, marking the time you put in each week. This is a way to make sure you’re meeting your goals and figuring out if any adjustments need to be made.

Working on your resolutions is a reward for moving toward self improvement. Reward yourself every quarter or for certain accomplishments. Soon, the resolution will become routine and eventually a habit. And once a habit, it will be something that will get noticed.

Merry Christmas (with Reflections on Joy)

In Finding Joy, Loving Writing, Reflections on Writing, Writing, Writing Goals on December 22, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Holiday decorations add color and joy to the lagoon in downtown Loveland, Colo.

Christmas can be a season of joy or not so much depending on your personal story and outlook on holidays in general.

First off, there’s the over-commercialization and the religious aspects. There also can be stress, anxiety and fatigue from a change in routine. I think of it as another month of the year with lots of red and green, repetitive (and beautiful) Christmas music, and a time to practice contentedness.

The Joy Bubble

That contentedness comes from acceptance and a bubble—I accept what is, I try for what I want, and I have a bubble around me to protect me from negative emotions. I feel them, of course, and then let them go. I also encounter crap (from not-so-nice people and things not working out just how I want) that I absorb being highly sensitive, but then I have to move on.

However, I haven’t fully learned the turn-the-other-cheek lesson, though as a non-confrontational person, I say things in my usual sweet voice (but my thoughts are not so nice). I want to work on my thoughts and brush off the negative and quickly move on.

Why am I going into all of this? Well, I committed to a weekly blog (and skipped a few weeks this year) and can’t seem to focus on writing. I just talked with a friend who brought up the holidays depression bit, and I told him about my bubble and how I go out in nature every day (I’m a runner and photographer) and take joy in that.

The Joy Choice

Joy, really, is a choice (for those of us who aren’t in the midst of awful life situations)—but if life is okay enough with bills paid, a job, friends, family and everything in place, it can be practiced on a daily basis (or at least for the most part). I chose joy because I don’t like being down. It’s too stressful, and it makes me tired. It takes more energy being sad and angry than going about, thinking, “Whatever.”

In my practice of joy this year, I even liked to learn snow. I used to say I hate snow, but then I realized how pretty it is stuck all sparkly like to the trees. We got two-plus feet of it here in Colorado just before Thanksgiving, and it’s still hanging about. Joy.

I also learned to like having a business—it’s kind of hard, at least for me as a dreamy artist type. I go to the Loveland Business Development Center and am advised to make my blog about promoting my writing and editing. I really doubt I did that here.

Writing for Joy

But here goes—the holidays are a busy time of year (wonderful or sad, however you look at them), but the need to market doesn’t go away just because it’s December. In fact, blogs, articles and edited content need to be kept up to pace, so that when it’s Jan. 1 and resolution time, the getting-behind-feeling won’t be there, and it will be time to start anew with new goals.

The thing about goals is that meeting them, even halfway, is a way to feel joy. I know, because I’m still in business after three years (I thought that would never happen), I came up with a plan to publish my novels, and I’m improving as a writer because I do it all the time. All. The. Time.

I love writing. I found my love. How can I not be joyful with a big love like that?

Fast and Fun Tips for Fitting in Blogging

In Blogging, Blogging Advice, Blogging Tips, Fast and Fun Tips, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on December 8, 2019 at 11:00 am

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Fitting in blogging into a busy schedule is similar to ducks finding a small circle of water within a snow-covered lagoon.

The holidays are full of busyness, but if blogs are a key marketing tool for your business, how can you fit it in?

If you don’t hire out the blogs, which for greatest impact, should be posted every week or at least once month, how can you find the time and space to write them?

In other words, think about The What and The Where, or the act of writing and the physical place to do it that feels the most inspiring and comfortable. But this comfort shouldn’t limit you to writing only when you have the time and can be in that exact spot.

Instead, sneak in writing in small increments and think of writing spots as being anywhere you can sit or stand. Realize that the setting doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does the writing or the tools—use a eyebrow pencil and a napkin or scrap of paper if need be. And carry a notebook wherever you go, since inspiration can hit at unplanned and awkward moments.

Finding a Writing Spot

To find a good writing spot, ask yourself a few questions, making sure you’re ready to write. For instance:

  • Do you need quiet or activity around you? Do you like having background noise to stimulate you as you work?
  • Do you want to write in solitude or be around other people?
  • Do you like working outside, in an office or in a cozy small space?
  • Do you want your things around you set up in a special way to serve as a source of inspiration or comfort?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, a patio or even a bar.

Once you find the right spot, make that your writing office or special place to engage in and write your blogs. But also think of that writing spot as wherever you have an idea or a spark of a great phrase.

 

How to Keep Up With Summer Writing

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation, Writing Tips on July 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

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During my 2018 summer trip to Florida, I photographed shorebirds at Busch Gardens chasing another bird holding a bun, making it so the bird with the prize couldn’t stop to have a snack. I turned my observation into a poem, taking advantage of summer fun to get in some writing time.

With summer a few weeks in, how do you keep up the writing pace when fun beckons?

Writing and blogging seem to be the kind of practices that if set aside lose momentum. Coming back to the project or a regular posting schedule takes review and discipline, just like setting aside a book and forgetting some of the intricacies of the plot and character.

For writers, bloggers and those who need to post a weekly or monthly blog or article, can the serious work of writing be included in busy summer plans?

Try small chunks so that it doesn’t feel like work. Plan a regular time for writing, a little at a time, or write ahead and schedule the blog online, or turn in the article early before deadline. And then don’t open the laptop or notebook unless there is free time or you feel inspired or motivated to write, so that it is not an obligation.

Think of it as quick and dirty writing: get in, do the work of fast content and return to the fun. The result is a mini-moment of work with a reward of having achieved something.

Methods for Quick Writing

Here are a few tips for quick and dirty, but effective writing.

First off, commit to writing while waiting or between the moments of work, errands and summer plans.

And then:

  • Schedule an hour or two for writing every other day or every three days. Even 15 minutes will suffice. It will add up over time, but if you don’t write, then there will be nothing but the desire to do so.
  • Do the writing in the morning by getting up extra early (or just before going to bed) and treat yourself to the rest of the fun summer schedule.
  • Acknowledge the accomplishment, such as by tracking it on a spreadsheet or a check-off list.
  • Break up writing into smaller tasks. Write for a few minutes and then set it aside to make it feel like less work. Come back to it later.

What I Do for Quick Writing

For me, writing after engaging in professional writing and editing during the workday requires discipline, so I set up a schedule in my planner and mark on my spreadsheet the number of hours I achieve writing. I have a project deadline and a weekly goal of a certain word count or page count, depending on if I’m in the writing or the editing stage of my project.

And then I sit down and write, aiming for an hour but if it’s less or more, I’m fine with it. The important thing is that I write.

Fitting in Writing Time and Space

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing and Mindset, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on June 2, 2019 at 5:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund is a key motivator for finding time and space for writing.

A fellow writer said five minutes is enough time to write and a car is a good enough space to pull out a notebook—the key is acknowledging the writing no matter when, where and how.

Writing doesn’t have to have the optimal conditions but can be slipped in, because waiting for the right place and right time can end up being limiting. The ideas or what could have happened get lost in the takeover of seemingly more important things.

I find that I can write for 15 minutes (five doesn’t work for me) and get a poem in, but for stories I do need a half-hour. If I wait for an hour or more, I skip it and do other tasks on my to-do list.

The lesson: just make do so you can write.

Carry a notebook wherever you go, or even different notebooks for different places—I have a mini one in my purse, a small one in my workbag and a few in my house. Inspiration can hit at unplanned or inconvenient moments, but take the five minutes, or even two, to jot down a reminder of what you want to say when you do have the time.

Finding a Writing Spot

For those mini writing moments, establish a writing spot that becomes your writing get-away. To do this, ask yourself a few questions, such as:

  • Do you need quiet or background noise from conversations and music?
  • Do you want an area that’s open or a small space, such as a closet converted into an office? Do you like working outside if it’s nice out?
  • Do you want to write alone or be around other people? Do you need to write with a writing partner or a write-in group?
  • Do you want to go somewhere away from home and the excuses of chores and whatever else can distract you?
  • Do you have a time of day when you do your best writing? Do you need a routine, or a schedule?

Other Ideas for Writing Spots

Here are a few places you can try: a desk in the bedroom or living room, the library, coffee shops, restaurants, bars or a porch, deck or patio during nice weather.

Once you find a spot you consider comfortable and also inspiring, make that your go-to place for writing. And then cherish it and the work that you do there.

Use a List to Make Writing a Habit

In Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Tips on January 27, 2019 at 6:00 pm

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The 10 geese at a local lagoon represent the top 10 writing tips to get you inspired for writing in 2019!

Lists are everywhere for a trip to the store, errands and business tasks, but do you have a list for writing?

Even if you are not a writer, these tips can help you get started. Or if you already love the process, do you have your own top 10 writing tips?

Why a Writing List?

My list helps me get motivated and stay on task, turning the desire to write into the action of writing. If I don’t keep resorting to it, I let other things fill my planner. It’s easy to do, and despite tracking how many hours I spend on writing each week, I come up with excuses for not writing.

It seems ironic—don’t do what you desire though you desire it.

The idea of a list is to turn desire into a habit, something that can be carried out through 2019. My list is compiled from writing advice I gathered from magazine articles and books on writing, writing conferences and workshops, and my own personal experiences.

The advice includes a few rules to live by to make writing a routine and, over time, a habit without too much planning, thinking or agonizing about it. It’s a way to show up for writing, finding that once you got started, you have something to say, a poem to write, or descriptions and storylines to add to a work in progress.

Top 10 Writing Tips

  • Write as much as you can, setting a writing quota with daily, weekly or monthly goals, such as writing three or four times a week. For example, make it a goal to write for two hours or 1,000 words in a session.
  • Get rid of distractions and the inner critic, which can keep you from writing.
  • Don’t wait for inspiration, because it could take awhile to arrive. Also, the more you practice writing, the easier it is for words and ideas to come to you.
  • Figure out what is most essential for you to write about. Write about what interests you, what you want to learn about and, of course, what you already know.
  • Have more awareness, using all of the senses when making observations to add details to your descriptions. Take notes for later use.
  • Think about where your writing wants to go, realizing that you’re not in total control of it. Trust your subconscious to make connections your conscious mind isn’t ready to or won’t necessarily be able to make.
  • Realize that rough or first drafts aren’t perfect on the first try. As you write, the story or message unfolds and isn’t readily formed until it’s written. Get the sentences down, then revise and revise again.
  • Accept that writing is supposed to be hard.
  • Focus on the process instead of the results. Enjoy that process.
  • Last but not least, read. Reading makes you a better writer.

Writing lists are a great way to pinpoint the best advice and serve as a source of motivation to find the time, discipline and inspiration to do the hard work of sitting down to write. With that list in hand, it’s a great time to make writing a habit in 2019!

Happy Writing New Year! (and setting writing resolutions)

In National Novel Writing Month, New Year's Resolutions, Writing, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals, Writing Motivation on December 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Zoey the Cute Dachshund poses by a 2019 planner, a good place to start planning out writing resolutions for the New Year.

I have a bit of writing guilt, and every year, I try to come up with spectacular, amazing resolutions and a plan to make writing my main goal.

And then I slip up, slip behind and see the goal slip away.

I find, instead, that the other resolutions are easier.

In 2019, I plan to run a faster mile—I’ve already cut off a minute during my last two runs, but that’s because I run slow and with the downtime of the holidays have more energy.

I plan to eat healthier by foregoing samples at the grocery store (where I work weekends) and cookies at home.

And I plan to continue learning how to knit and returning to my hobby of drawing.

As for my main resolution, it’s a longstanding one. Since second grade, I have wanted to be a famous novelist but in 2018 did not work in a way to achieve that. I wrote in other ways. I wrote for work. I wrote a weekly blog. I wrote in my daily journal. I wrote poetry.

But I need to do my real passion type of writing … writing novels. So for 2019, I have a new planner and new plan for an old goal.

Writing Resolutions for 2019

My New Year’s resolution is to make my writing more of a priority, instead of fitting it in when I have time, just like I did last year. I had the same goal for 2018 and blogged about it then, too.

Over the year, I achieved revising one but not two of my novels. I kept up with the daily poem challenge though had a few times of playing catch-up. And I wrote short stories—I wrote three and 10 in 2017, so not an improvement. I also said I’d start drafting a new novel—I didn’t.

For 2019, I’m scaling back my resolutions so that they are achievable and I feel like I can carry them out with accountability. I plan to revise the second novel, keep up with the daily poetry and write six short stories. I also plan to pitch my revised first novel.

What are your writing resolutions for 2019? Do you want to join a writers’ group, write a novel or a few short stories, or participate in NaNoWriMo, a month-long challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November? Or if writing is something you don’t like to do and would like to try, how about starting with a class or one-day workshop or meeting up with a writing friend to get some tips?

Keeping to a resolution can be difficult, shown by the statistic that only 8 percent of those who make resolutions follow through.

Sticking to Your Resolutions

Here are a few ways to stick to your writing (and other) resolutions:

  • Pick a resolution that you want to do, instead of something you think is good for you or everyone else is doing (like writing novels when writing short stories is your preference).
  • Pick up to three resolutions instead of a long list that will be difficult to manage or even remember. That way you can focus your efforts on what you really want to accomplish.
  • Write down your resolutions and place them in a prominent place, such as on your desk or the fridge. Visualize how you will carry out these goals.
  • Break the goals into smaller steps that can be accomplished each week or month. If writing is one of your goals, start out with 500 words or a half-hour and build from there.
  • Be specific, such as planning to write two days a week for one hour each time, or to write 2,000 words three times a week.
  • Figure out your most productive time of day to work and fit your goal into that timeframe, even if it is for a half-hour. A lot can be accomplished accumulatively.
  • Check in every so often to make sure you’re meeting your goals and ask if any adjustments need to be made.

As you work on your resolutions, reward yourself as your efforts lead toward results that are tangible and measurable. Writing consistently week after week takes some adjustment, motivation and discipline. But then it will become habit and easier for 2020!

Keeping on Task with Writing During the Holidays

In Habits, Writing, Writing Advice, Writing Discipline, Writing Goals on December 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm

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Shelley Widhalm of Shell’s Ink Services holds up one of her gifts during Christmas 2017, celebrated at a local Starbucks with her family, after spending an hour that morning at another coffee shop doing some writing.

The holidays are about fancy parties, good food and fun get-togethers, but they also can be about writing and keeping up that routine.

Each year, I have to make a conscious effort to fit in writing on my holiday to-do list. Beside my usual work and life activities, I need to set aside time for writing my annual Christmas letter and shopping for presents, along with extra holiday socializing. With a busier calendar, I still need to retain focus on my main goal, which is writing. Without that focus, along with some discipline and a plan, the additional activities can become a distraction.

That’s why setting a routine, especially during a busy time of the year, is extra important.

Writing Routines

Here are a few ways to be disciplined in writing no matter the time of year:

  • Buy a planner or use a phone app for 2019 and schedule specific writing days.
  • Write daily, or at least a couple of times a week, selecting a specific time or place to write, i.e. keep writing office hours.
  • Clock in the hours you write, both for accountability and to acknowledge what you have accomplished and add up the hours every week or month and compare them over time.
  • Write for five or 10 minutes in between other activities, using a notebook that you always have with you. Those minutes will add up.
  • Write a writing action plan with goals for the year and check in every few weeks to mark your progress.
  • Take a writer’s retreat, even if it’s in your hometown, setting aside a weekend to focus on writing (maybe as a reward for surviving the holidays or just before everything gets busy).

Writing Results

Once writing is routine and you mark your progress toward your goals, you can see how you are reaching those accomplishments, while also being able to engage in holiday fun.

Over the course of a year, I like to calculate how many hours I spent on writing my novels, writing poetry and revising my work, along with the time I dedicated to writing each month. I can tell when I’ve gotten distracted and for how long, not putting in those important hours and minutes that can add up to a significant amount, especially in a year’s time.

This holiday, I plan to stay on track and keep to my original goal of writing at least two times a week and fitting in writing whenever I can. That way I can get in more writing for my year-end tally!