how to have the best writing year

Why a goal setting system is more important than the goals you set, and my favorite realistic and easy goal-setting system for writers who want to publish books. Affiliate links may be included below.


I keep looking at it in my calendar. It’s highlighted, in bold type, and has way too many exclamation points. It says:

Goal-Setting Day!!!!!

It’s the most wonderful day of the year.

We spend so much of our time in the thick of things, so busy getting everything done, that we straight forget what we are actually trying to accomplish across our whole life.

We see the immediate to-dos looming today and tomorrow. We see the tasks waiting for us at home and at work. When we look into the future, it’s a blur of vague hopes. When we look back, it’s a blur of already-forgotten days. Man, it’s stressful.

And the busier life gets, the harder it is to remember what we already accomplished and what we are trying to accomplish.

This is especially true of writers and creatives who work for ourselves or have a side hustle. There’s no boss to sit you down at the end of the year and grade your performance. And there’s no mandated time to set goals for next year and think about the big picture of your career and life.

 literary agent blog goals for writers lon

That’s why you need to take goal-setting time for yourself.

Because the truth is, no one is going to tap you on the shoulder and nag you until you schedule in goal-setting time. (I’ll nag you a little right now, but only because I love ya!)

I can’t stress enough how important this is for writers, bloggers, everyone. If you’re involved in any creative endeavor, even if it’s just a side project, then you owe it to yourself to be intentional about how you spend your time.

Even more, you owe it to yourself to celebrate your accomplishments of 2017 and get excited about the adventures of 2018.

Your creative life will feel richer and more meaningful if you can see the big picture of why you do what you do. It’s an easy way to become mindful of your strengths and weaknesses, and to be thoughtful and intentional about what you want to accomplish and what you will set aside.

Do you know how to set goals the right way?

The problem is: most of us have no idea how to set goals the right way. (And yes, there is definitely a right way.)

Yet, goals are high-stakes. We feel awful when we don’t meet them, and we feel amazing when we crush them.

So setting them at all becomes a highly emotional process. How do we know our goals aren’t too easy? How do we know if they’re unrealistic? How many goals should we be setting? And the big one: how do we actually accomplish those goals? (Because we all know it’s not as easy as making a list of things we’d like to do.)

The truth is: no one is born knowing these things. Just because you’ve successfully knocked out goals in the past doesn’t mean 2018 won’t throw you some curve balls. Just because you’ve missed some goals in the past doesn’t mean 2018 won’t be the year you hit it out of the park.

But as I talked about here, books and classes pull us off the isolated island of our own experience and immerse us in the stream of collective learning. There’s no reason we have to struggle on our own when there are hundreds of resources out there for learning important life skills. And you betchya that goal-setting should be one of them.

So this year, I highly recommend making “Set up a system for making and meeting goals” as one of your goals.

Yes, a goal about goals. It’s weird. But I promise that it’ll be fun to learn a new goal-setting process, and it’s going to lay the foundation for many, many years of accomplishments.

Personally, every year I get excited all over again about one goal-setting system: Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. I’ve been a huge fan of all things Hyatt for many years (he was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson at HarperCollins), and he builds better resources for advancing your career and creative life than anyone out there.

The thing that really amazes me about BYE is the success stories: you hear everything from people losing 30+ pounds, to tripling their income, to finally setting things right in their relationships. This is hard stuff we deal with, and if you ask me, we can use every bit of help we can get.

I’ll let Michael tell you more about the class here (reading that makes me excited all over again!), and if you feel like it’s right for you, you can sign up here. Enrollment closes this Monday, December 19th, so check this off your to-do list now! And at least that will be one goal you’re already crushing. 😉

Click here to sign up for Best Year Ever!

 

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What I’m Reading

How to Land a Book Deal (Me on the Food Blogger Pro podcast): The nice folks at Food Blogger Pro (one of my favorite resources!) invited me to be on the podcast to share the inside details of how to get a book deal. As much as I find the sound of my own voice weird (are we all wired to think that?), I hope you’ll at least find it a helpful listen!

7 Crazy Successful Instagrammers You Should Pay Attention To (Deidra Romero for Platform University): I loved this list because I, for one, learn by watching. I instantly followed some of these Instagrammers so I could be inspired by the best.

How to Find and Attract Editors for Pitching Articles (Devra Ferst and Dianne Jacob): One of the best ways to build your author platform is to start building your writing portfolio and collecting bylines at top media outlets. This is a great piece with practical insider tips on how to start getting “yeses” on those pitches.

Printable bookplates for all your gifting needs (cooks & books): Here are two nice things to do this holiday: gift a book and donate a book. Either way, a nice inscription is always welcome, and I love using these free printable bookplates for it. (After all, some people are a little funny about writing directly in the book!)

A Book Launch Plan for First-Time Authors Without an Online Presence (Jane Friedman): Don’t know where to start and don’t have any online base? Well, Jane is here to walk you through what you can do, even if you don’t yet know your Instagram from your Twitter.


What We’re Eating This Week

We are hoommee! Thank you to all you sweet folks who wished us safe travels to El Salvador last week. I got a little sappy in an Instagram post about how much the trip meant to me and how grateful I am for the work Habitat for Humanity is doing in the world. I won’t prattle on about it, but if you’ve ever thought about doing a build with them, I’d love to talk your ear off about it!

nonfiction books blog

Now, let’s eat:

Monday: Well, the whole eat-less, work-more plan for El Salvador didn’t quite work out because pupusas and beer. So Monday we threw together a sheet pan dinner of brussels, mushrooms, and sausage and another one of drumsticks and cauliflower. All I could think about was pupusas.

Tuesday: Salad! We did it. A healthy thing. I’ll pat myself on the back for a month now.

Wednesday: The Stonesong team is off to celebrate two clients: Julie Gaines of Fishs Eddy who is hosting a signing for Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. We love making connections, talking food, and doing dishes.

Thursday: Please send Chicken Lo Mein and Wonton Soup to Desk #4, Stonesong Offices, NY, NY.

Friday: Home and out to dinner with friends! We’re trying Jose Andres’s China Chilcano for the first time. Methinks me will likey.

Cheers!

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A 1-minute exercise to help you stop procrastinating

How to stop procrastinating and write: with this easy, 1 minute exercise you can overcome procrastination, stop struggling to start writing, and finally just start writing without stopping.


It’s like carrying a goat on your shoulders. Have you ever seen someone sling a full-grown goat over their shoulders?

(Maybe not, but let’s use our imaginations here.)

It weighs them down and pushes their head toward the ground and makes them generally wish it weren’t there.

That’s how I think of big projects I’m procrastinating on. Everything’s going dandy and then—bam—I remember I have to write something big tomorrow or finally face editing a tricky section of a proposal. It’s a bummer. Not because I don’t like the work of writing and editing (I love it), but because the anticipation makes me anxious, and every time I wonder if I’ll be able to actually do that writing and editing and do it well.

Instead, I’m tempted to distract myself with the easy stuff: emails, phone calls, contracts, and whatever else is less intimidating. And that goat of a project keeps weighing me down subconsciously, bleating to be done and generally stressing me out with how difficult it seems.

All procrastination is fear

Steven Pressfield calls this burden “resistance” in The War of Art. It’s resistance to start the difficult work. Elizabeth Gilbert said “All procrastination is fear” in Big Magic, and I don’t think I’ve ever underlined a sentence in a book so many times. We’ve all felt it, and every writer I’ve ever worked with has struggled with it at one time or another.

But what are we really afraid of? I’ve heard every fear you can think of from writers and bloggers, and here’s just a little sampling from the cornucopia:

Fear of not being able to stay focused. Fear of giving up and escaping to something easy instead. Fear of never finishing that book. Fear of it not selling. Fear of no one caring. Fear of having lost the magic that allowed us to write last time. Fear of being untalented. (But talent is a myth, and here’s why.)

Essentially, fear of it being hard—really, really hard.

But over the years, I’ve learned a few techniques from my authors and from plain ol’ trial and error that has taken the wind out of my procrastination sails. Now, I feel anxious if I procrastinate at all, and I try to do the hardest things first thing in the morning, when I can.

easy stop procrastinating writing

How can we stop procrastinating and finally write?

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Why talent is a myth, and the 3 things you actually need to be a bestseller

Why writing talent is a myth, and the 3 things that can actually help you become a bestselling author.


I was scrolling through my Instagram feed on Monday when something stopped me:

“I’m afraid I’m not talented enough.”

It was a caption on a pretty photo of a journal, and it was by a young writer who wasn’t sure she should keep going.

I could almost picture the real scene. The paralysis and anxiety about opening her manuscript. The embarrassment and self-criticism over what she’d written already. The fear that it was all for nothing. The escape to social media so she wouldn’t have to face those hard feelings.

I know it all, because I’ve been there, too. Who wouldn’t rather watch panda videos instead of doing the hard work? (She says as she Googles for panda videos…)

But anyone who’s ever written anything, from a novel to a blog post to a pitch letter, has had those same sinking feelings.

What if we don’t have what it takes? What if we’re not talented?

This nagging fear crops up everywhere, and it makes us wonder if, no matter how much effort we put in, we’ll just never be any good. We say we want to write, but then life gets in the way. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, what’s really keeping us from writing?

It’s us. Our own fear.

The fear that we’re not talented enough.

how to become a bestselling author

But here’s what I’ve come to realize, after nearly a decade of working with writers and successful authors: that person who seems “talented”? They just have more experience.

It may seem like talented is a natural state for some, but that’s because all we see is the output of today and not the inputs of their entire lives. It’s a totally bogus construct. Most likely, that person began paying attention to writing before you, or maybe, through luck and circumstance, they have more time each day to pay attention to writing. They’ve simply accrued more hours on their experience meter, or they’ve had higher quality inputs. They’re not innately “better” than you–I promise!

What do I mean by inputs? I know we’re not machines, but I’ve always found it helpful to think of the creative mind like a container, one which has both inputs and outputs.

The output—the quality of your work—can only be made with the inputs that already exist in the container. Inputs can be anything. A creative mind is like a sponge, and it sops up anything and everything it finds interesting, even if it has no immediate use for it.

Inputs can be:

  • Books
  • Magazines
  • Art
  • Music
  • TV shows
  • Advice
  • Classes
  • Research
  • Nature
  • Conversations

See? Anything. But the key is:

The more high-quality inputs you have, the higher-quality your output is.

If you started reading The New Yorker at 7, you will be a better writer than most people, simply because you’ve absorbed the cadences of good writing. If you’re reading US Weekly and corporate memos most days, your inputs are mucking up your mind, and you may have to unlearn some bad cadences and turns of phrase.

Since we can’t see most people’s inputs, we assume their superior output is coming from someplace else: their talent. Instead, it’s coming from their superior inputs.

Which, trust me, is great news: it means all you have to do to up your game is fill yourself with the best writing, reading, and other inputs you can.

But fears are like whack-a-mole. You finally stop worrying about whether you’re talented, and then you start worrying about whether you’re self-disciplined enough. Or smart enough. Or clever enough. Or literally [any adjective] enough. Instead, we need to unplug the game and go get a drink at the bar. Um, I mean…stop letting the moles run the show.

That’s what separates bestselling authors from struggling authors. They know that the fears will always be there, but they don’t let them run the show.

Instead, bestselling authors have 3 deep beliefs about themselves and the world that make them completely unstoppable.

That’s why I believe that part of the work of being a writer, blogger, or creative of any kind is character-building. Without methodically developing these 3 beliefs, just like you methodically develop your writing or photos, you can only go so far.

Here are the 3 beliefs that separate bestselling authors from the rest:

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How to waste time in a way that makes you more creative

3 ways to flex your creativity and stretch your brain, even if you don’t have energy to read or write.

“I am SO tired.”

I had just finished working, and I was collapsed on the couch, feeling dazed from staring at the screen all day. We had dinner to make, laundry to do, a million to-dos still pending from the work day, and all Jarrett and I wanted to do was zone out in front of the TV.

So we did just that. We poured some wine, scrambled some eggs for dinner, and planted ourselves onto the couch to watch House Hunters. (Have you seen Tiny House Hunters? I’m in love!)

But that feeling of guilt, that I was “wasting” time when I should have been reading the millions of books on my TBR list or writing my next piece? It wasn’t there.

In fact, I waste time like this every week. Even though I work on books about productivity, creativity, and personal growth, I totally veg out sometimes.

And that’s okay.

In fact, science shows that you’re at your most creative when you’re tired at the end of the day. So wasting time—either by doing nothing at all or doing something not goal-oriented–will actually make you more likely to make novel connections between things and to refresh your perspective for the next day.

And you don’t have to feel guilty about it. Because isn’t that the double-edged sword? We feel guilty when we “waste” our time going down rabbit holes online or channel surfing, but we also feel unhappy and exhausted when we pack every minute of our days with useful, productive things.

The reality is: even those things we think of as time-wasters are incredible for our creativity and learning, as long as we’re engaging in them the right way. What’s the right way? More on that below!

3 ways to transform your time-wasting tasks into creative rocket fuel

(even if you don’t have energy to read or write)

how to be more creative anytime

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