Sunday, January 31, 2010

First Benchmark for "First Book"

In our house, kids and books go together like peanut butter and jelly. Like syrup and pancakes. Like ketchup on french fries. It seems like my daughter has been reading ever since she's been born.

Reading is so prevalent in "Hendricksonville" that we tend to take a passion for the written word for granted. We can't imagine our lives without the joy of books.

First Book is a non-profit organization that understands the vital importance of literacy. First Book provides free books to children in need year-round. It has earned a top rating of four-stars by Charity Navigator, with more than 92% of donations going directly to their programs and less than 8% going to administrative costs and overhead.

When Kelly Smith decided to take me up on my Goal Posts challenge, First Book is the non-profit she chose to champion in her quest to finish her historical novel this year. I am honored to be one of her charter supporters. Today, the last day of January, I was thrilled to hear that she had met her first goal!

Yay, Kelly!

Want to encourage a writer and do some good in the world? Contact Kelly and sign up to be a supporter!

Want to make your own goals count to more than just you? Make your own Goal Post commitment. Good luck! And let me know when you've made your first benchmark!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Money Matters

I recently wrote an article for Writer's Weekly on the challenges every writer faces in determining what to charge and how to estimate what a job will cost.

"For What It's Worth" is 500 words that I wish someone had told me when I started making words my business.

Too many writers I meet feel guilty or even ashamed to charge for their services.

Too many of them have given little thought to their long-term business plan.

Too many are happy to simply cash the occasional check from a publisher and dance with fervent frenzy until realize that it works out to roughly 14 cents an hour for all the time they invested in the piece.

I've been there. I used to live there, in fact. And, truth be told, some days it's a struggle not to go "back home."

Last week, I received an e-mail from a first-time published writer. The publisher wanted the writer's social security number in order to issue a check and the writer had security concerns.

My response was something along the lines of, "The publisher is a long-established one that printed your piece and wants to hire you for more. If you want to get paid and don't have an EIN, give them your SSN."

(Actually, I think my exact response was, "Give them the #. Laugh all the way to the bank. It'll be fine.")

I often find that writers get uncomfortable when talking about money. Evidently, others have noticed the tendency as well.

Last week, Freelance Writing Jobs compiled a list of 32 blog posts about writers' rates.

Some are more useful than others. "How Much Should I Charge?" by Allena Tapia is full of relevant, useful links. It also includes the caveat:

"Remember that your billable hours will generally make up only 20% to 60% of your total working hours."

Yet another thing I wish someone had told me when I was just starting out.

It's a good thing for writers to talk about money. (It's an even better thing for writers to make money, if you ask me.) The more we share ideas and strategies for making the most of our writing time, the more we'll be able to make a living doing what we love. And nothing matters more than that!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Edits and Evergreens

I'm in the midst of a very tedious, bird-by-bird edit of an enormous project for one of my favorite clients. It's a legacy project -- one over 5 years in development that took over 2 years to write. I'm not only proofing for grammatical and punctuation errors, but I'm also looking for format, style, and layout issues. The completed project, including supplemental material is over 175,000 words -- the equivalent of 4 full non-fiction projects... I spent the entire day making sure every comma was in the right place.

The tone for the day was set when I received the news that the winners of the 3-Day Novel Contest have been announced. And they are not me. Or I am not they.

In any case -- I'm not on the list. Evidently, the writing I do while recuperating from the swine flu is not up to snuff. Most depressing.

And the edit continues.

It's a necessary thing, this edit. And I'm happy to do it. But it's slow going. It's an odd layout with thin margins, nearly no white space, and skinny, squished sans-serif font -- which means that in a very short time span, my right eye develops an irritating involuntary twitch and begins to beg for mercy. And at the end of the day, there isn't a creative cell in my body that's willing to stand up and insist that I pay attention to it.

Which means that when the edit is done, I'm going to have to spend a day or two recharging my vision and my muse.

Earlier today, I served as a guest contributor on Missy Frye's Incurable Disease of Writing blog. My piece explains how writers can use evergreens (finished, polished pieces) to keep the momentum of their careers going while still taking time to regroup after finishing a major project.

It appears that the timing is fortuitous. I'm looking forward to spending a day with my evergreens. I can't wait to take my own advice.

If I ever get this edit finished...

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Article Recipe

or, 5 Easy Pieces

I recently received the following e-mail from a flustered Workshop attendee:

"I am having a panic attack right now and thought you might appreciate my predicament, if you can recall back to your early days of writing. You would be so proud of me! I pitched an idea to the [local newspaper] after seeing a similar story in the Chicago Trib.

"The first two editors failed to even answer me (though one did much later). I didn't even know if the paper took freelancers... I decided, "What the heck?" and emailed a third editor, and she responded favorably!

"Long story short: I am working on a story that [has a hard deadline which is rapidly approaching]. I have been sending out emails like crazy, heard responses from a Harvard professor and a CEO, done a phone interview with a Grand Valley prof., interviewed two teachers at school, typed permission slips for parent permission to do students' interviews, and met with the paper's photographer. I feel like a real reporter!

"NOW, I can't get started. I have all the info., a writer's critique mtg. I want to use as a personal deadline and I am freaking out! So many local people know I am doing this, so I can't hide like I do with my cyberspace writing! Yikes! Maybe it's all the pop and hershey kisses I am eating that is giving me the shakes! Anyway, no more procrastinating!"

In my experience, writing a short, informative article that features several sources follows a simple, almost formulaic process.

I e-mailed the writer back, proposed curtailing the sugar intake, and offered a few suggestions for stopping the shakes and for starting the article.

Writing an article is a matter of combining 5 easy pieces. In case the process might be of use to other writers, here they are:

1.) First, conduct all necessary interviews. Record them and transcribe only the important bits of them. (I have a friend who faithfully transcribes every word of every interview, but I find that incredibly time consuming. Focusing on the highlights not only streamlines the process, but acts as a "first pass" of editing and arranging your material.

(An aside: I love MP3 recorders that are also USB drives. What a wonderful invention! A godsend for interviewers.)

2.) Write the lead. Imagine that you are writing a script for a TV news anchor to introduce the story and to keep the audience from turning the channel. Be clear. Be specific. Name names. Hook your readers' interest. Give them a reason to keep reading.

3.) Let 'Em Speak For Themselves. Let whoever you reference in your opening "hook" provide a quote that builds your second paragraph.

4.) Work the Room. Then, just let your people talk. Visit each source and let him or her have a say in the topic at hand. (If you need to bring in a new voice, like all good hostesses, remember to introduce the speaker to the reader.) All YOU need to do is provide the segues and explain things that might be fuzzy. You'll discover that some sources are more quotable than others. Be aware of the dangers inherent in playing favorites and make every effort to present a well-rounded story.

5.) Leave 'Em Wanting More. When you're done telling your story -- quit. There is no need to use every quote or to even quote every source.

And that, in a nutshell, is that.

My writer friend who started this dialogue finished her article (without any help from Yours Truly). It went into print and she's on track for another.

Of course there are myriad things a writer can do to stir things up, to avoid death-by-formula, and to write a better article. However, I maintain that when on deadline or when you don't know what to do or where to begin, following the Article Recipe is a simple 5-Step plan for success.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Cheerleader

I am so proud of the writers I have the privilege of working with. They are very driven people who sincerely want to improve their craft.

For instance, take non-fiction author and Writing Practicum member Kelly Smith. Kelly has taken up my challenge for Charitable Accountability, or finding a useful, benevolent way to commit to your goals.

Kelly chose FirstBook as the non-profit that will benefit from her striving to attain her goal of writing a novel this year. She committed to her goals online. Now her writing dreams will have a direct, positive impact on others.

I am so proud of her that I pledged to be one of her goal supporters.

I am also proud of Marcy Blesy, another writer who I've worked with in the past year, for having one of her first paying gigs printed.

Marcy's story on Bridgman teachers using exercise balls in the classroom ran in Sunday's edition of the Herald-Palladium -- Berrien County's newspaper. Not only did she do a great job on the piece, but the editors have also shown an interest in having her do more articles for them.

Marcy's success is a stick-with-it testimony. She knew she had a good idea, but had to query the editorial staff several times in order to get a response. She stuck with it and landed the assignment. So -- yay, Marcy!

It's imperative that we writers commit to our goals and make it a priority to reach them. Sometimes, however, it's nice to have a cheerleader in our corner who knows what we've gone through and who supports our efforts to excel. Usually, I'm the working writer, plugging away at my projects. Today, however, I'm happy to be the one who cheers.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Goal Posts, Part III -- Plan for Success

or, Hallmarks of an Achievable Goal

I've been doing what I call "vision work" with a friend and client. She is in the process of starting a non-profit and is working to determine what her Big Picture plan is.

I believe in the importance of branding (or knowing exactly what hole your services fill). Vision work is a way to help find what it is about a business that really drives you. Articulating your vision makes it fairly easy, then, to develop a means of branding the business so it connects with others who share your passions.

Goals are an essential part of vision work. In my experience, not all goals are created equally.

Some goals are too fuzzy. ("I want to make the world a better place".)

Some goals are unwieldy. ("I want to create a compound that, when added to normal drinking water, alters the human genome in such a way that it eliminates selfishness, thus making the world a better place.")

Some are too complicated. ("I want to add the anti-selfishness compound that I have created and patented to the water supply of the entire world. I will do this by inventing a cloud-seeding process that will impregnate rain clouds with specially coated pods that will, via a timed-release mechanism, disperse the compound into the atmosphere. That will complete Phase I...")

And some are impossible. I don't mean impossible in a "they said it couldn't be done" way. I mean making someone else responsible for achieving your dreams is impossible. And irresponsible.

In my experience, goals that inspire people to achieve them share three hallmarks. When making goals -- whether for the week, the month, the year, the book, or the business -- I counsel clients to do the following:

1.) Clearly articulate the goal.

If you can't say it, you can't see it.

"I want this book to be a bestseller" is not a clearly articulated goal. There are too many undefined areas. For instance:

Do you want the book to be a bestseller for the publisher? If so, what does that entail? Do you want it to be in the Top 10 sales of books published in the same year? Or in the Top 10 of all of their other published books including their backlist?

Do you want it to be a bestseller on Is making the Top 100 a goal? Or do you want to make the Top 10 of a particular genre? How long is "long enough" to qualify? updates their bestseller lists hourly. Is hitting the #10 slot for an hour adequate? Or do you want to maintain the position for a certain amount of time?

Do you want it to be on the New York Times bestseller list? This list is compiled very differently than Amazon's list. Being a bestseller on one doesn't guarantee being a bestseller on another.

"I'll take whatever one I can get," I've had clients say. If they're close enough to me at the time, I finger-ping them in the head.

No one -- but NO one -- will just give you a bestseller. They are not lying on the table like brochures available for you to "take." You want bestseller status? You must work for it.

Knowing what your goals are tells you where to focus your efforts so you improve your chances of success. The more specific the goal, the better your plan of action -- and the greater your chances are of achieving it.

2.) Tell others about your goal and get them involved.

Friends and family love to lend support. Their involvement also keeps the goal before you and makes you accountable.

For a specific suggestion on how to use Charitable Accountability to involve your supporters in helping you reach your goals for this year, see my Goal Posts, Part II post from earlier this month.

3.) Make meeting the goal entirely your responsibility.

My goal cannot be contingent on someone else for its realization, because then it is too easy to blame other people if the goal is not met. As I mentioned earlier, it is also impossible for me to control someone else's actions. Therefore, any goal that hinges upon someone else is inherently flawed.

For instance, "I will get an agent in 2010" is contingent on someone else deciding to sign me. But I can't MAKE someone make that decision. However, I can do everything in my power to find the right people and present myself to them. A goal like, "every month, I will research at least 10 working agents and managers and find at least 2 worth querying," is something for which I can be responsible.

A goal that you clearly articulate, tell others about, and assume responsibility for is a goal that has every chance of being met.

So... What are YOUR goals? And what are you going to do about them?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Reeling Reviews

or, Thoughts on the Standards of English Professors

I received the following note from a writer friend of mine who is also a book reviewer. Her boss had recently sent her an author’s scathing e-mail “ripping” my friend’s review of her book.

Note to all writers: if someone blasts your writing, TAKE IT and then LET IT GO.

Do not respond.

Do not pitch a fit.

Do not call the lineage or the intelligence of the reviewer into question.

Do not threaten Armageddon.

A review is an opinion. Some people will love your work no matter how bad it is. Some will hate it no matter how great it is. Sending snarky notes will never get a person who gave you a bad review to rescind their testimony. You will only spark a debate that will inevitably end with you appearing petty, foolish, and vain.

Now, my reviewing friend is not a jealous wanna-be writer who looks for ways to cut other writers down to size. She is not a Harpy or a grammar-Nazi. She loves books and reading and writing. She is a Nice Person.

We had an interesting discussion on the subject of authors verbally attacking reviewers. Here’s what she had to say:

"I actually laughed out loud I was so taken aback. My boss was fine with [the irate author’s comments], but wanted my feedback.

“The author argued that there are no grammatical errors that I commented on, but her book was loaded with pronoun usage problems. Maybe most people don't care, but this daughter of a strict English teacher really gets bugged by things like that.

“She also said I would have given her a good review if she were famous! Nice! (It was a self-published book. Go figure.)

My reviewer friend typed up a short response addressing the peevish author’s concerns. She stood behind her review. Shortly thereafter, the author sent ANOTHER e-mail responding to her response, in which the author said:

”If the you (sic) and the reviewer are expecting downright perfection on every page, then you will be unhappy. That was not my goal. If I waited for perfection at every point, the book would never get done, and I would be waiting and waiting. That is why I self-published because I was tired of waiting and waiting.

“I think you are out of touch with the average person. I didn't write the book to pass the standards of an English Professor.”

“Speechless,” said my friend. “I am simply speechless! Thankfully my boss is totally cool with my end of things and is letting the review stand.”

She went on to say that though she used to get upset that most publishers and agents quit reading after a few paragraphs, she now understands where the common publishing industry practice comes from. “My first assessments of a new book I am reviewing usually hold true by the end. It is so easy to spot good and bad writing. That will help me be a better writer, I think!

"Though I am nominally paid, they are such a nice group to work for and I am getting invaluable experience. By the way, some of the books are quite awesome, too!"

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Cherie Burbach Interview

I recently had the opportunity to interview writer, blogger, Packers fan, and poet Cherie Burbach.

Cherie knows a thing or two about making the most of her writing time and about promoting what she has published. I especially liked her advice to aspiring writers (below). I am grateful that she took time away from her many writing commitments in order to chat with me.

You juggle many writing jobs: books, freelance projects, blogs. What are some of the time management techniques that allow you to tackle multiple projects at ones?

I try and focus blocks of time toward certain projects. For example, in the morning I focus on my personal blogs and answering email. Then I dive into freelance work.

When I blog, I try and "cluster post," which means that I'll try to write a group of them and post ahead. Since writing today often involves posting online, I set aside time to write a bunch of things, rather than write and post (and write and post). I can save time if I can just keep writing. Then I tend to post, look for pictures, and do social networking and promotion.

When it comes to books, however, I usually take some time at night or on weekends to write. If I'm really having trouble focusing (or have a deadline) I will close out everything but the project I'm working on. So I'll shut down email, Internet, etc. and just write.

You maintain or contribute to many blogs, including Working Writers, Blisstree, Every Joe, and The Dating Blog. How has blogging impacted you as a writer? What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming a blogger?

Blogging is definitely a different type of writing. It involves a more personal writing style with topical subject matter. When I was freelance writing for magazines, I would get an assignment, research, write, and turn in my copy. With blogging, all of that is required to move a bit faster. Not only that, but blogging generally means coming up with the subject matter yourself, rather than getting assignments. Your expertise and personality are part of what make a blog interesting to read. So in a way, blogging allows you to be yourself. I think my blogs have allowed readers to get to know me a little better.

You have written poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. What process do you use to determine what project to work on next?

I try and work on all of them at once! (Ha ha!) But each is very different.

For nonfiction books, I usually have a subject that I want to explore further. For the dating books I've written, it was a matter of getting asked a lot of questions from readers. People comment on my posts or email me, and sometimes there is a consistent theme where questions are concerned. I wanted to fill the need of answering those questions and providing more information. For the diabetes book, I saw a need for people to understand the personal side of the disease.

For nonfiction articles, I usually get inspired by something, receive a question from someone, get an assignment, or just feel the need to explore a certain topic.

The first two poetry books I wrote were really from the collection I had built over the years. The themes relate to young woman and girls, because many of the poems are from that time frame. The third poetry book, Father's Eyes, is the first one that had a story to it and theme. I knew I wanted to write the story of growing up with my alcoholic father in poetry. The poetry focused a lot around Chrisitianity and faith because that is a big part of my life.

I still write poetry often, but the poetry has changed as I've gotten older. I always, without exception, write my poetry in longhand in a notebook. I carry notebooks with me everywhere in case I get inspired or thing of something I want to write about. I usually let the words roll around in my head for a while before committing them to paper. Then I'll revise (still in longhand) and rework it until I'm satisfied. I never type out a poem until it's completely finished. The next book may center around the theme of love, because I've been working on several with that subject matter. (An aside from being a dating writer perhaps?)

Fiction is a whole different ballgame. The process begins with a story concept. I usually have an idea for the beginning and end of a story. In some cases I even have the ending line in my end. The journey of writing is then connecting those two things. I write using the computer, primarily, but adding thoughts written from a notebook. I usually write a (really bad) first draft, then use a combination of the computer and pen to edit. I love editing with the pen, however.

What was your first paying writing job? What about it was the catalyst that made you decide you wanted to make writing your career?

I think my first paying job was about 15 years ago. I wrote a short article for a magazine and thought it was the coolest thing ever. After that I would write occasional pieces for the local paper or magazines. I kept working full time, however, and didn't transition to full-time writing until a few years ago. After I work my first dating book, I started receiving offers to write other dating-related pieces. I then worked part time and did freelance writing part time.

What words of advice would you give to an aspiring poet? Would your advice be any different if you were directing it toward an aspiring writer of prose?

For any type of writer I would simply advise them to write. Write often. Write when you feel like it and especially when you don't.

For poets especially, I would recommend getting feedback on their writing from people they can trust. Not just someone like their mom that will tell them "it's good" (although that's nice to hear too), but someone who will give them honest feedback. Listen to what people say, and if there is a lesson in it, then go ahead and follow the lesson. But if you can learn more about your writing from the critics, then use it to improve. The flip side, of course, is never taking any feedback (good or otherwise!) personally. If someone likes what you do, be grateful and humble, and move on and keep writing. Don't ever change your writing to try and be like another writer. Instead, improve what you write so you can be yourself. Not everyone will like everything you do, and that's okay.

You’ve written several non-fiction books, including Internet Dating is Not Like Ordering a Pizza and 21 Things You Can Do To Help Someone With Diabetes. What is the best writing tip you can give to a writer about to tackle a non-fiction project?

Try and make your titles shorter than mine! (Ha ha!)

Seriously, I would say to make sure there is a need for the nonfiction project you are going to write. Figure out, even before you put pen to paper, what you want readers to take away from your book. It's okay if there are other books out there on the same subject, but try and distinguish yours somehow. If you have a unique take on things or can provide a different perspective, that might be enough to make your book sell. Nonfiction, especially, should fill a need. Figure out exactly what that need is so you can determine your market. Then, write to that market.

If you could spend a week in the company of one writer that you admire, who would it be? Why?

This is possibly the toughest question I have ever been asked! I could spend time with writers 24/7.... so.... just one?

I'd LOVE to meet Maya Angelou one day. The things she's been through in life... wow. She's a beautiful poet and her words are inspiring. Plus, I've heard she's an awesome cook. So maybe she would make me dinner while I just sat and listened to her stories. Have you ever heard her speak? Her voice.... it draws you in. If I could hear her read one of her poems live.... well that would be about the best thing ever.

How do you approach marketing your books? What do you think every successful author should know about the publishing and marketing industry?

It depends on the book and genre.

If I'm marketing nonfiction, I start making up a marketing plan even before writing the book. I do this in part to determine who my ideal buyer will be, so I can write something valuable for that sect. After I finish the book I usually try and get some reviews so other people can determine if the book is right for them. I think bloggers are a wonderful way to get the word out about your book. They are honest and can relay information in a casual way directly to their readers.

For poetry, I see if my book has a theme and if there is a logical group that might be interested in reading my work.

For fiction, I try and determine similar books on the market and who is reading them, and use that as a way to figure out my ideal reader. Then, I try and figure out where my ideal reader hangs out. Does she read blogs? Which ones? Would she look up books that interest her on Amazon? Once I determine the ideal reader, the marketing plan follows.

If you could see into the future and all your writing dreams came true, where would you like to be as a writer three years from now?

Oooh, I'm so glad you asked about three years from now instead of ten. Ten is too hard to imagine! But three? Three years from now it would be great to have my first and second novels published. I would like to do more fiction and less nonfiction as the years go on.

If you weren’t a writer, how would you fill up your days?

Before I was a full-time writer, I worked in marketing. I still wrote on the side but worked long, long days in the marketing world. However, my dream job would probably be a professional organizer. I love putting things back together in a logical way.

What are your three favorite things about the Green Bay Packers? If you were guest coach for a game, what would your strategy be? Furthermore, what exactly does a “Packers tree” look like?

Like every fan, I think I know a ton about coaching when I'm sitting on my couch watching the game. Oh, how easy it is to be a know-it-all then! In reality, I would probably be terrible at it!

However, if I were a guest coach for a game, I would definitely focus on the defense. I'm a girl that likes a defensive match (one reason why arena football wasn't as fun to watch, in my opinion) so I would study films and devise a defensive strategy that exposed the weakness of the opposing offense. I love the blitz, so I'm sure I would include plenty of plays centered around it. I would probably read up on Fritz Shurmur's COACHING TEAM DEFENSE or COACHING THE DEFENSIVE LINE (because let's face it - the man was an awesome defensive strategist). I like a defense that goes a step beyond. For example, not just tackling, but stripping the ball. Not just blocking a ball, but leaping for the interception. Not just reading a play, but knowing exactly where the first-down markers are. Then, I would hire Chuck Cecil to be my assistant because he's my favorite player of all time.

Here is a photo of the famous Packer tree! A good Packer tree has not only Packer-related ornaments, but things that represent the team as well. We have a block of cheese and mug of beer in addition to player and fan ornaments. I have a Chuck Cecil trading card as part of an ornament. A few homemade ornaments. The pinnacle is the topper - a mini-helmut complete with a light up "G." Go Pack!

To learn more about Cherie Burbach, her writing, and her other projects, visit

Monday, January 04, 2010

Goal Posts, Part II -- Charitable Accountability

or, Put Your Money (and Time) Where Your Mouth Is

Several things have happened lately that have made me re-evaluate how I will approach the things I want to do. One of them was a pre-Christmas blog post by literary agent Nathan Bransford in which he invited readers to comment with a wish for 2010. For every comment, he pledged to donate $1 to Heifer International.

Mr Bransford invited others to take the ball and run with it. I took him up on the challenge. So did at least 22 other bloggers (according to the links on his original post). And ::bam!:: -- just like that -- a bit of writing that I did, coupled with a bit of writing that others did, resulted in a real benefit to real people. (The comments I received were enough to buy some bees!)

How's that for a warm, fuzzy feeling and for knowing that your writing is doing something worthwhile and making the world a better place?

A few days after Christmas, we received a letter from Darlene, a friend of ours who used to work at Whirlpool with Robert. She was a project lead and a project manager. This past year, however, she quit her (very lucrative) job with corporate America to pursue her dream. She is currently attending seminary and getting her M.Div. Her Christmas letter practically glows with hope, fulfillment, and the satisfaction of rising to a welcome challenge.

All we could say was "Wow!" We are so proud of her for following where her dreams lead.

Both Mr. Bransford and Darlene have made me think about how I can make my dreams (and the dreams of my clients) have a more positive impact.

I wanted to come up with a way that would not only help clients, friends, and others reach their goals, but that would also make the world a better place as those people were reaching for their goals. I propose Charitable Accountability as a place to start. Here's how it works:

Step 1: Identify your BIG End Goal. It must be quantifiable and reachable within this calendar year.

(If you, like me, have several big projects you want to tackle, then each major project counts as a single goal. This keeps you from than loading up all of your dream projects into one big pile and calling that your goal.)

Step 2: Identify at least 10 people who love you and who want to see you succeed. Write their names down, contact them, and ask if they will help support you in your quest to reach your goal.

Step 3: Divide your main goal into 12 quantifiable sub-goals. Each sub-goal should be attainable within 4 weeks of working on it.

Post these goals, numbered 1 - 12 on your website or blog.

If your goal is to write a novel, the following sub-goals might make sense:

1.) Outline entire project and begin required research.
2.) Write the hook, complete required research, create character notes.
3 - 7.) Write 20,000 words (5,000 words per week) until project is completed (100,000 word total).
8.) Read and edit first 50,000 words. Solicit criticism on the edited draft.
9.) Read and edit second 50,000 words. Solicit criticism on the edited draft.
10.) Incorporate necessary changes.
11.) Polish prose until squeaky clean.
12.) Edit for grammar and punctuation.

Step 4: Determine your favorite non-profit charitable organization. Set up a way to donate to them and post it on your website or blog.

Step 5: Ask each of your supporters (see Step 2) to pledge a total of $60 to help you reach your goal in the next year. At the end of each month, you should have reached the next sub-goal on your list. Post your progress on your website or blog.

Every time you make a stated sub-goal, each supporter pledges to make a $5 donation to your chosen charity.

Important!: If you do NOT reach a stated sub-goal, your supporters are not required to donate. However, you (and no one else) are responsible for committing to your dreams.

Failing to meet a sub-goal is literally taking money away from your selected charity. That's not fair! So it is YOUR responsibility to pledge to make up the difference that your missed sub-goal has cost the organization. If you have 10 supporters, and each is happy to donate $5 / month for each goal you make, that means that you are responsible for a $50 donation for every month you miss your goals.

How's that for incentive AND for knowing that your dreams are as important to the world as they are to you?

At the end of the year you will not only have reached your Big Goal, but you will also have raised at least $600 for your favorite charity!

And that, in a nutshell, is my formula for Charitable Accountability. Any takers? If so, feel free to comment. I encourage you to put your $$ where your dreams are. Get your friends and family on board, and get started toward reaching your goal today!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Goal Posts

Happy New Year to one and all!

The arrival of a fresh year stretching its twelve pristine months into the future invites me to make plans.

Look at that enormous expanse of unsullied time, I think. Plenty of time for me to finish the draft of my NaNo novel, split it into three pieces, and flesh out the trilogy...

and research and draft my Pet Novel Project that I'd begun before NaNo...

and edit two clients' projects...

and write books for two other clients...

and write another spec script...

and research literary agents and managers, pinpoint the right ones for my work, craft brilliant introductory query letters, and have them fight over the right to represent me...

and plan the Writing Workshops I'll be teaching...

and promote the book I helped Ryan Gingerich write, which is due for release in March...

and get the movie of "Against the Wind," the screenplay I co-wrote about the life of running legend Dick Beardsley into production...

This is how my thoughts get me into trouble. Because, suddenly, those 365 beautiful, blank days seem pitiful and small and entirely unable to support all the things I want to accomplish when they visit.

I -- like so many writers -- want to do too much. This poses the very real danger of spreading myself too thinly, of starting too many projects, and consequently failing to finish much of anything.

The name of the game is Prioritizing. Instead of asking "What do I want to do this next year?" I must address the issues of "What will I commit to completing this year?" Which is somehow scarier. In many ways, it's easier to have a million Things I Want To Do than to have two or three Things I Will Move Heaven and Earth to Accomplish.

This has led me to think seriously about how to help myself and the writers with whom I work to meet our goals for the next year. I have a plan percolating. I think it will work. I'll add it to the Things I Want To Do, and unveil it next week...

Till then: I encourage you to write down the things you will commit to this next year. Feel free to post them in the comments, if you wish, but write them down. Then let's work together to make our dreams reality.

Happy 2010!