Tools, Programs, and Tips For Writing a Book

Writing a book is hard. Getting an agent and getting a book published is hard.

But let’s talk about some of the tools you can use to help you along your way. Using a single giant document might not be enough. Here is a brief list of tools—both physical and electronic—that I use when I write.

One thing I learned while drafting THE NAMELESS QUEEN was that “writing” is more than just writing. It was outlining and drawing, scribbling, and flow-charting. It was ranting to my sister and friends about stupid plot holes and fighting with the default formatting inside software. It’s exporting files and tracking metrics to promote productive work. It’s talking to myself when I’m alone in my car. “Writing a Book” is really “Creating a Self-Sustaining Guide to a Million Methods of Madness.” It’s “build a world with rules and people.” It’s “design a scene with emotional weight and tension.” It’s “understand other human minds.” It’s “communicate effectively.”

How does this network of intersecting Chaos Roads relate to tools? I learned through these activities that I need an area for chaotic thinking and an area for orderly thinking. And sometimes I need one of these arenas for EACH story or project I’m working on. Sometimes I need one of those arenas for every single aspect of the writing process. I know some people who are very ritualistic about the work they do. Same place, same time every day. Same schedule. Repetition fuels them.

Repetition is great for me, too, but only in small doses. Only in shifting patterns. A routine that adapts as your needs change.

So I’ll use the same program or tool over and over again, but I’m always on the look out for when those tools stop working. After time, I find that I get less done in a certain place or with a certain program. When that happens, I pick up and move on. I try something new. If my brain is in Chaotic Thinking mode, maybe I need to go for a walk and rant to myself. If my brain is in Orderly Thinking mode, maybe I need a structured environment with a table, chairs, harsh white lighting, and no internet.

To cope with these needs, here are the physical and electronic tools I’ve used during the drafting and revising stages of my first to-be-published book.

Physical Resources & Tools

Notebooks

I have quite a few of these. I get them for presents, I buy them for fun, and I have about 72 million. Each one is used for something different, and some of them I have specifically designated for certain projects or different types of work. Here’s a list of the ones I have and use right now. Also, full disclosure, I *name* them, too. I don’t even know why. But there you are. Let’s introduce them:

  • Chevryn — This is a black book that I keep in my backpack now. I used to keep it in my purse (before I got a cool new backpack), and before that it spent a few months on The Pile of Many Notebooks in my den. Chevryn is a scribble-it-down place. It is an area for Chaotic Thinking or disorganized thoughts.
  • Duval — This is a smaller black book that definitely fits in my backpack and probably my coat pocket, too. It’s the On The Go notebook. I don’t like not having a notebook/pen, so this is my tag-along friend. Random scenes or ideas get scribbled here.
  • IMG_8835Dodd — An aptly named dot-journal, this journal is for Organized Thoughts. Sometimes you need to scribble, and sometimes you need to organize. Book writing and revising can be messy or calculating (both, really), and this is the place I go for tracking my work and keeping my thoughts orderly.
  • Jerald — This is an older brown journal that I used specifically for hand-writing scenes of some older manuscripts I worked on. Staring at a blank page can be daunting. When I need to work in a new place on a project when I’m stuck, I sometimes like to hand-write it. When I trunked those projects, it felt right to move on. There is no law that says you must finish a journal once you start. Which is great, because I have literally never finished writing all the way through ANY journal EVER. Points for consistency, I suppose.

Binders

In 2014, when I was planning Book 1: The Nameless Queen. In ten days, I had a partially-fledged novel plan with things like character descriptions, flowcharts for plot, drawings of thematic arcs, and hastily-drawn sketches of mapped locations. (Fun fact: there is a LOT of content in that binder that is 100% no longer applicable to the story as it is today.)

IMG_6652Binder One (I’ve not given these fellows any quirky names or anything), contains All Things Book 1 related. When I was at work, I’d scribble scenes on sticky notes or notepads, and I’d bring them home, type them up, and in the binder they’d go. It was a way of bringing order to chaos. It was a way to collect what I didn’t want to lose track of. (Because for real, how many times have you thought about something perfect, but by the time you get home or get to that part of the book, you’ve forgotten your Grand Plan.) I found that hand-writing or getting thoughts down in the middle of the day was necessary. Yeah, I could try to separate my 9-5 job and my Creative Brain, but your brain doesn’t always let you decide these things. And my best experience tells me that if your Creative Brain is on, let it be on. Find a way to be productive, because inspiration does not strike on a schedule.

Binder Two is similar to Binder One, except I put a note in the cover that says “the sequel.” It has ideas and plans and characters, just like Binder One, but with all the grandness of being the second. It’s filled with mostly blank printer paper, because when you gotta flow-chart, you just gotta flow-chart.

Whiteboard

IMG_8863

I love whiteboards. If whiteboard walls weren’t terrible for maintenance (and not super great tbh), I would live in a cube of whiteboards. I would live in a mansion built of whiteboard cubes. In my Meditation House (which–not to get off track–is a meditative house I build in my brain when I’m trying to sleep), there is specifically a room that is covered with whiteboards. And in one corner of that whiteboard, there are all the digits of pi I’ve memorized. Hmm. Okay. That was probably more insight into my psyche than you wanted. Moving right along!

I use whiteboards for making physical maps so I can get my scene/plot progressions straight. I use them for everything I use journals or printer paper for, except whiteboards have a really fast turn-over. Whiteboards are great when you need to let ideas flow fast, draw-erase, draw-erase, draw some more. Take a picture if you want it to last forever, or transfer it into an Organized Thinking location like a notebook or binder.

Corkboard

I have a corkboard that I used primarily for mapping out the scene progression through the story. I needed a visual for wrapping my brain around the order of events and to flag things when they went wrong. So I used a bunch of sticky notes and notecards, wrote down important things, and moved them around on the corkboard as needed. I’d classify this as a Bringing to Order resource.

Print It Off!

IMG_6646Sometimes, you just need to dig in with your hands. Having something physical lets your brain comprehend the content in a different way. That’s why writing long-hand can offer some much-need refreshment to an otherwise electronic-heavy experience. For revisions, you can break out the highlighter and sticky-tabs. For me, the sticky-tabs are particularly helpful, because it makes it easier to flip back and forth between two sections and see how much physical space certain events take.

Hot tip: if you use different colored highlighters for different things or different types of tabs, be sure to include that information as a key (like a map legend) in the beginning!

Sticky Notes

IMG_6653

This may seem narcissistic, but I promise it isn’t. Probably. But you know how when you write a scene or a line, and it just works. It just clicks. It speaks to the themes of your story, and it rings true and good. Those moments—those lines and quotes from your book—write them down! Collect them, and post them on your wall! You can do this electronically or physically, but the important thing is to take pride when you do good work. If you find those moments and sentences that speak to the soul of your work, you need to hang on to those! Put them in a safe place where you can refer back to them. It will give you encouragement when you hit a wall. It will be a collection of milestones and accomplishments, touchstones and tokens that prove to you that you can do this. It says you are good. It says remember why you love this. I can’t tell you how many times I looked up to that wall of sticky-notes for inspiration from my past self. These things are important. So whether it’s sticky notes, a cork board, drawing directly on your wall—make sure to collect your own achievements. Be proud! Celebrate yourself!

Receipts and Other Scraps

Always. Carry. A. Pen.

This advice is a bit flexible if you always have your phone, but in my experience there isn’t much more exciting than a bolt of inspiration that strikes lightning into your bones.

When the final scene of THE NAMELESS QUEEN popped into my head, I was at someone else’s house and I did. not. have. a. freaking. pen. I scrambled about until I found a brick-colored crayon, and I scribbled out the ending on a piece of paper. The ending page of my book has hardly changed since I wrote it in crayon. Except that the first draft was written in a weird on-the-fly symbolic code.

But the advice stands! Always be ready for when your brain decides to throw you a curve ball. Whether that means scribbling on the back of receipts, the back of your hand, the back of a stranger’s hand, or that envelope on your table you’ve been meaning to recycle.

Hot tip: Be prepared for inspiration, but don’t wait for it.

Electronic

Visual Planning Programs

If you’re a visual person like me, sometimes you just need to SEE it. You need to prove to yourself it exists. Here are some of the computer software/programs I’ve used and what I’ve used them for.

InDesign

When I’m brainstorming, I need a place to bring together my ideas, half-written scenes, themes, and disparate thoughts. A lot of that first-draft idea content is on physical resources (binders, notebooks), but then comes the time to organize those thoughts. InDesign is an Adobe Creative program, and it’s most often used by graphic designers and technical writers to do page-based layouts, like magazines, textbooks, fliers, etc. I use it as part of my day job (tech writing), and when it came time to pull together pitches for new book ideas, this is how my brain made sense of the chaos.

magazine-snagAgent: Why don’t you pull together a query letter for each idea?

Editor: A couple paragraphs per idea should be good.

Me: Okay that sounds great and I totally hear you… but how about an 8-page magazine-style spread per idea?

Now, you don’t have to use InDesign. You can use Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, or any number of programs that allow you to move things around visually. My main use is having block-style chunks of text that I can move around. On the first pitch I made, I did blocks for the “pitch”, the first sentences of the story, the cast, the themes, lines of dialogue, and chunks of scenes that popped in my head.

Illustrator

covertest-01Illustrator is another Adobe program, and you can of course use any other image-designing or drawing program. Or paper, if you desire! I used Illustrator to create placeholder covers for my book (see image to the left). Or I hand-drew them. The important part for me was to create something that proved to me that this could be a real and proper book. Anytime I do NaNoWriMo, I end up with a cover of some kind—mostly hand-drawn, but sometimes computer-drawn. For me, it’s a powerful visualization that compels me to keep working. Before I had access to Illustrator, I used Pixlr, a free online program. You can also use GIMP, another free-source image editing program.

Word Processor Program

Microsoft Word

This is about as industry-standard as you can get for writing. If you send content back and forth to your agent, editor, beta, critique partner, or others, it is 90% likely to be in Microsoft Word. Track changes is the holy grail of collaborative work between writers, and I haven’t found a program that does it better than Word. The downside to word processing programs is that they aren’t good for EVERY part of the writing process. They’re very good for linear work and collaborative commenting. But they fall short in the arena of planning and chaotic thinking. That’s why I use so many other methods of planning and brainstorming and work. This program might be a crucial tool and a holy grail, but it’s not the end-all be-all. I use this program for revisions and communications, but I haven’t even always used it for drafting.

Scrivener

When I drafted THE NAMELESS QUEEN in 2014, it was with this program. I never successfully made it through the tutorial, but I did learn enough to get by. And get by, I did. This program gives you a daily word-count target tracker that you can reset everyday, so it provides a handy visual while you work. It also functions with a virtual corkboard of notecards, which can facilitate character planning or keeping records of details for you story. There’s a lot of bulk within this program, but I sadly switched to a different computer (mac from pc), so I lost my license, which is not transferrable between Operating Systems (OS). So, I don’t know if I’ll use this program for my next book, but we’ll see if i feel like shelling out the 30-some dollars to get a discounted license with my new mac. The good news about this software is that if you do NaNoWriMo, you can get a free temporary license during November (through January, I think), which should give you enough of a taste to see if you like it! Additionally, if you WIN NaNoWriMo, you get a coupon for a discounted license if you want to purchase it. Since I wrote TNQ based on 2014 Nano, that’s how they got me!

Notes on your phone

IMG_B175F3C56154-1I still haven’t finagled the best solution for taking notes on my phone. There’s a default notes application on my iPhone which talks to my mac, so transferring content between the two is pretty efficient. Also, that app also has a “handwriting” option where you can just DRAW in the notes. That’s pretty hand if you have a stylus or hate the autocorrect that thinks it knows better than you. There’s also Microsoft Word on my phone and a notecards app, and of course access through data/wifi to google drive and other online/cloud storage services.

Dictation (Recording Device/App)

Ah, here is one of my biggest secrets. I have a 20-minute commute to work everyday, most of it freeway driving. During that 20-minute drive, I will frequently dictate using my iPhone and my microphone-headphones. I. Love. It.

Don’t like hearing your own voice on recordings? Spoiler: no one does. I didn’t like it at first. But! It was just me listening to it, and that made it okay. (Saying nothing about my sporadic YouTube video presence.) I adjusted to it over time—like we do with all things over time. IMG_0500 2Here’s what I do: I start the basic recording app (I use the default Voice Memos app on my iPhone, which is especially good, since I can add a shortcut from my quick-menu to it). I start driving, and I just TALK to myself. Sometimes this involves me complaining about writer’s block or being stuck. Mostly, I just launch into a monologue or a conversation between characters, and I just talk my way through the scene. You have to be okay with the fact that it’s awkward and that most of it will suck. At the end of the day, I spend about 40-60 minutes typing up a 20 minute dictation, and it is SO productive. I write more this way than I do if I waste an hour staring at a blank page. I can’t recommend it highly enough! Though, do be safe and present while driving. I missed my exit a few times over the past year, and while it made for a fun story, it was also not so great to listen to myself struggle to not use copious swear words while I fumbled my way back to the freeway.

Graphs & Data

Data is a beautiful thing. *swoon* You can use it to track anything you want. I typically use Excel, unless I want an auto-generated histogram, in which case I use Google Sheets. As far as drafting is concerned, Nanowrimo typically provides you with a data input and graph log system. But that only gets you as far as the end of the month of November. I love creating graphs to help me track my work. It’s good for words per day when drafting, and then pages per day for revisions. Also, you can gather data about your own writing habits, such as hours per day, words typed per day, words removed, etc. in order to get a breakdown of your own writing habits.

pagesperday

You can use all kinds of data breakdowns to answer questions, such as: how many female vs. male characters are in the book? How many of those characters have names, or are in positions of power, or die? How many chapters do you have, and how much time does each take up? The example I’ve included is from an early draft of my book, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, and you can see that my time management skills are not *the best.* It did get better in later drafts. A bit better. But making this graph and others helped give me a high level perspective on the logistics of the story. I strongly encourage to any kind of data breakdown you think will help you gain a new perspective on your story.

What About You?

The biggest thing for me is trying new things when my current habits stop working. I admire those weird stories of authors and artists who have such a reliable and regular routine, that it works for them for years. For me, I’m still figuring it all out. I do what works until it doesn’t work anymore. And when something doesn’t work, you try something else!

So if you have any tools, tips, or tricks that you use, let me know! (My first draft of this post was initially 1k words longer, but WordPress screwed up and lost a bunch of my progress, so it’s possible I’ve forgotten some items.)

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Camp NaNo 2016 April — Update 1: Starting NOT at the Beginning

campnano2016-1

My Camp NaNoWriMo word count graph will lie to you. It says things like, “Wow, you wrote almost 40k in the first day!”

Nope. I started with about 37k the first day. And I’m transcribing dictation I did a week ago. Hopefully I will catch up soon and be dictating/transcribing in real time. But the graph is there to mark my progress, which has as much to do with dictating as it does with transcribing.

I’m 100% okay with the slightly skewed statistics I have, because this month of April is all about making progress! It’s all about moving forward and doing the work. For this month, I’m not starting at the beginning of a story, because I already started.

But we don’t have to start at the beginning. This goes for tracking progress AND starting your story.

Even if you’re starting at zero words, who says you have to start at the beginning of the story? Beginning is a difficult task. Sometimes you want to jump to the action (which, to be honest, is probably where you story starts anyway). This post is just to say that when you’re starting out, whether it’s at the beginning of your story, before the story starts, or jumping ahead to where inspiration strikes… it’s all OK.

As long as you get to work and work hard!

Previous: Camp NaNoWriMo 2016: How to Track Revisions, Short Stories, And Unreliable Word Counts

 

Camp NaNoWriMo 2016: How to Track Revisions, Short Stories, and Unreliable Word Counts

WHO. IS. READY.

I am TOTALLY ready.

Ready-ish.

Camp NaNoWriMo (what this is) is a way for me to jump into a month of solid productivity. Typically, I use that space to work on the novel I started in the previous November’s Nano. Since Camp is so flexible, it’s really something you can use at any stage of the writing process.

Here are their categories for writing projects this year:

  • Novel
  • Nonfiction
  • Poetry
  • Revision
  • Script
  • Short Stories
  • Other

So not only are they directly giving you the option of revising for the month, it also allows for different projects like Short Stories and Scripts. And like the fallen cherry, on the bottom we have “Other.” That means that this month of April is YOURS to personalize, individualize, and dance around!

*pauses in moonwalk*

But wait, how do we track “revisions”? What if we’re starting the month with a chunk of our novels already written?

Fear not, tireless crusader!!

Abnormal Tracking Methods

| Revision |

| Scattershot Revisions, Adding Scenes, Query Letter, etc. |

I used last year’s April to do revisions (yeah, that time I forgot until April 1 that it was happening), with the specific goals of adding four scenes, writing a query, receiving and acting on beta reader materials, and focusing on a polish for the first and last chapters.

So for me, I listed 10k as my goal for the month last year. I figured that would give me some wiggle room for writing/revising the query, adding scenes, and revising on feedback from beta readers.

CampNano15

Ask you can see, it was a step-wise process.  (haha, get it? cause it looks like stairs). Each time I completed something—the query letter, the first chapter revisions, etc.—I added the final word count of that section. And later that year is when I joined Pitch Wars, which led to me getting my agent, so Camp Nano was a big part of that!

The case of the disappearing word count in day 1 and 2 was due to the fact that I wrote a query and then heartlessly crushed it with fire. That’s right. Crushed with fire. Totally a thing.

| Revising Entire Novel/Work |

This one’s pretty easy. I did it in 2014 with one of my longer-standing projects (The Amateur Witch) which is now tucked safely in a lovely trunk.

All you have to do is start revising at the beginning of the story and however many pages you get through, just highlight/word count the ms up to that point.

Quick Tip:

To get the word count of the story up to your current location, hit “Ctrl+A” (this selects ALL the text), then hit “Shift+ Right Click” on the page where you want the word count to stop at. That will leave you with all of the document selected up to your current location.

That’s how you get your current “revision” word count!

And don’t freak out when your word count shifts between sessions or by the end.

CampNano14

I got through the ms in about 1-1/2 weeks, then I spent the rest of the time trimming and cutting down.

Revision for some people involves adding meat to the bones, and for some it involves trimming away the fat. The end goal of revisions is really to get to a muscly golem creature who is more than skin and bones, but not too flabby. And that’s probably the weirdest analogy I’ve ever made for revisions, so I’ll leave it at that.

| Poetry & Short Stories |

This is where you want to know how much work you see for yourself. Are you writing a set of 35 poems for a collection? Are you writing a series of 5 stories or 20? Are you doing flash fiction or longer stories?

This is when you want to take a look at your previous works of poetry or stories. What’s your average word count for each? Do you work in longer works, where your stories are regularly 10k+ or where your poems are 100+?

Either way, all you have to do is a bit of math.

Multiply what you expect your number of stories/poems to be by the average word count. That gives you your goal for Camp!

 

Final Word Count Issues

So what happens if you get your 6 stories or 20 poems written, but your final word count is short of the estimated goal you set at the beginning of the month? Or if, through revisions, you cut a bunch of words, and now you haven’t met your “goal”?

Unlike November’s NaNoWriMo, the monthly goal is totally flexible. You can change it at any time!

The spirit of Camp is to get the work done and put in your time and effort. Given the nature of poetry, short stories, and revisions, it’s tough to nail down a prospected word count. Keep in mind that for Poetry & Short Stories, it was an estimated word count goal, but it was grounded in a more specific goal of how many pieces you’re producing.

The same goes for the revisions! Your word count “goal” was your current word count. That is of course going to change throughout the month. At the end, all you have to do is adjust that Word Count Goal to match your splendid accomplishments!!

 

Join Me!

I’m always more than willing to have writing buddies throughout the NaNo process! My username for Camp is ink.weaver, so shoot me a buddy request or an email if you want to hang out or chat throughout the lovely month of April 2016!

NaNoWriMo 2015 #1— An Experiment in Insanity

I’ve done NaNoWriMo before—successfully sometimes, dread-failure others. NaNoWriMo is the best way to go insane: on a schedule, in a large group, and with no regard for the safety of others.

I tend to warn people when it’s coming.

“Watch out, loved ones. I’m going to go crazy for exactly one month. And then also more than that.”

“You know how I’m an adult, and I’m decently good at shopping, bill-paying, getting to bed/work on time, and general friendliness? The entire month of November will be an anomaly in that system.”

“You’ve reached Rebecca McLaughlin. I’m unavailable to talk right now, so leave a message, or better yet check back with me two fortnights after the first frost as long as the frost happens on November 1st… so basically come back to me in December, but also maybe Thanksgiving because that’ll be where I get the fuel to power through the remaining week of November: the power of left-overs. THANKSBYE–beeeep.”

It doesn’t matter that I’ve done it for years. Last year, I had a spontaneous Book Idea seven days before November. I sketched and drafted like a maniac, flinging post-its and whiteboard markers around the room like a Tasmanian devil. Then I sat down and started writing THE NAMELESS QUEEN.

But because I simply cannot be contained to a single month, it took until mid-February for me to finish the colossal 150k rough draft. I chopped it down to 127k, and got accepted as a Mentee by Laura Salters The Fiercely Fantastic as a part of the fantastic Pitch Wars contest.

Pitch Wars lasted for 2 months, September and October, and I polished it from 127k to a glimmerful (yes, that’s the word I’ve chosen) and palatable 105k. Of course, that’s in addition to rewriting huge chunks, adding new chunks, moving characters like chairs in a game of Let’s Move The Chairs Because Logic (And Because We Can).

The Agent Round (*trumpet sounds*) begins tomorrow, November 3rd. That marks the official end of Pitch Wars.

And the trumpets sounded!

You might have noticed that in a post about NaNoWriMo, I’ve talked a lot about Pitch Wars. That’s because despite having just spent an entire two months in a whirlwind of huge revisions and hard work, I’m diving into NaNo like it’s my job. Which it isn’t, because I have a proper day job that’s also competing for these few wintry daylight hours.

I’m diving into NaNo like a crazy person. A CRAZY person.

Remember how this is an experiment of insanity? Yep. It is. I could snap at any moment. Like a twig under the foot of a creepy forest serial killer.

See? I just compared myself to a twig. And my comparison involved a serial killer.

You should probably run away. Or at the very least, hide all the coffee.

Eternal THIS would be my heaven.

So. Recap. I’m jumping into NaNoWriMo. Join me, if you’re on the edge of insanity and want a gentle push. And by gentle push, I mean I’m going to grab you by the hand, shout like a maniac, and pull you with me as I leap out into the void of NaNo Craziness. FUN RIIIIGHT? *as we descend into the insanity pit of November, with only the scent of turkey and glimmerfulness of snow to lure us out.

Take my hand, won’t you?

Sudden Camp NaNoWriMo — 2015 July

AH. It’s July 1.

Between paying rent, planning for the 4th of July weekend, and being a human who uses Internets and Electronic Devices, I should have seen this coming.

Aside from errands and holidays, I have one major issue:

Today is the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’m not prepared. I just finished inputting my hard-copy edits into the computer. Now I have 4 scenes to write/edit (which hopefully won’t total more than a few thousand words).

Then I want to send it off to a couple beta readers (Twister and a friend) who haven’t seen it yet.

This means I won’t have a lot of actual writing to do this month. Sure, I have anywhere from 3–5 other projects I could work on. But I’m in the middle of revisions, and I don’t know if my brain can handle a whole other project.

And I don’t know if I have a hefty enough revision load left to fill a whole month of productivity. I’ll be in more of a slump of letting my brain recuperate while the beta readers sink their teeth in. (And while I nervously stare at my texts and emails, waiting to hear back.)

Historically speaking, I don’t tolerate inaction well. I can hardly go a day without drifting and then diving into a project. Maybe I’ll spend my off-hours reading instead of writing? I’m already knee-deep in Maureen Johnson’s “The Name of the Star.”

I sort of want to work on expanding the premise of an idea I had for Cold Blood, but I don’t know any deeper details of the character or plot (I don’t even know the MCs gender yet!).

What I can do, however (since Camp NaNoWriMo is quite flexible), is set myself additional revision goals.

Camp NaNoWriMo Goals:

  • Write 4 scenes that need to be added.
  • Polish the first chapters.
  • Write a query letter.
  • Polish the last chapters.
  • Receive and address feedback as it arrives.

Hopefully, these things will keep me busy enough for the month. Especially if I throw in some books to read and some premise-expanding!

Anyone else out there diving into Camp NaNoWriMo?

Anyone else diving in last minute like me? (I KNOW I’M NOT ALONE)

New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Today is the last day of 2014, onto a new odd-numbered year with many a month ahead of writing, stressing, editing, drafting, proofing, planning, and brainstorming.

Amidst all the chaos, these past few days have prompted in many people a desire to self-reflect. Take a look back on the year. How did it go? Good things? Bad things? Miracles and tragedies? Fortune and despair? Fear and luck?

Or maybe your life is a bit simpler for now, and everything about 2014 was like a bowl of tomato basil soup: a bit viscous, with a bit of spice, but overall singularly flavored.

Soup of life… and submarines.

One thing’s for sure. If you’re a writer, then your life can be as exciting or dull, flavorful or flavorless as possible, but a sea of words, art, imagination, creativity, and stress still rage about like chaotic flecks in a shaken snow globe. No matter the highs and lows of this last year, at some point, words have brought us joy (along with myriad other emotions).

That’s what writing does. That’s what it’s good for. No matter if those words were in the form of reading or writing, books, poetry, music, speech, or just the scribbling of dreams on the margins of paper.

The tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions was always something I sort of shrugged at. I’m not opposed to making decisions and goals that positively impact my life. I just always thought that those sorts of goals should be made on an as-needed basis instead of being lumped together on a single Eve where the spirits consumed might immediately rob you of the memory of making them (aka: drunk people forget things).

HOWEVER!

After experiencing NaNoWriMo for the first time, I changed my tune. I began whistling praises instead of criticisms, because I finally realized that National Novel Writing Month is the same thing as making a resolution. It’s a time where it forces people to take action (through culture or opportunity) and to make goals, decisions, and promises.

Now, making silly half-promises like “Eat less sugar, lose ten pounds, work out more, spend less, eat less takeout, etc.” are all well and good, except we almost never adhere to our word.

So let’s talk about a more sacred word than our half-assessed oaths. Let’s talk about writing.

Let’s make promises we know we can keep, promises we actually will enjoy keeping. This New Year: Give your word to give more words. Write, read, experience, and create.

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

  • Read ten, twenty, fifty, 100 books? Let Goodreads keep you accountable with their 2015 Reading Challenge.
  • Write a book? Try breaking it up into smaller monthly goals. Aim for a monthly word count goal, or to work on X number of pages of drafting/revising/etc.
    • Use Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July.
    • Use your own word count tracker (Microsoft Excel, or the one built into Scrivener, etc.)
  • Write a number of pages/poems/stories? Maybe pin/tape them up on your wall as you finish so you can urge yourself onward to do better and to remind yourself of the work you’ve already done!
  • Keep blogging? Instead of making the vague promise to “keep blogging,” get a monthly, weekly, or daily goal to update the little slice of internet you call home!

When writing (books, poetry, or a blog), it’s better to have shorter, more condense goals, tracked by the month or even week. That way, the project doesn’t seem so insurmountable or daunting!

My writing goals for January:

  • Finish writing my current book, The Nameless Queen.
  • Read at least one recreational novel (might have to wait until I’ve finished writing).
  • Post to my blog at least twice per week.

I even know a couple from February:

  • Read Victoria Aveyard‘s debut novel, Red Queen(No plagiaristic connection to my book, I promise. Though I can’t be sure; hers hasn’t come out yet.)
  • Take a short break from writing and do some hardcore reading.
  • Or go back and fix blatant plot holes/errors in my book.

What about you? Do you have any writing goals for this upcoming year/month? Any books you’re looking forward to reading? Any books you’re looking forward to writing?