Make Next Year the Best of Your Writing Life

James Scott Bell

Well, here it is, friends. The last TKZ post of the year. For the next two weeks of blogging silence let’s make it all about hearth and home, friends and family, Christmas and Hanukkah, food and football––and getting ready to make 2015 the best year of your writing life.
1. Take a Vision Day
What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of career do you want to have? Dream. Every accomplishment begins with a vision of what it will look like and feel like to you.
Every year I go to a park for a few hours with a notebook and some music, and take stock of this life I’ve been given. I go over the big spheres of my existence: spiritual, family, community, writing. I assess and think about what I’d like to do better.
I look again at books that have spoken me over the years, like A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing. I also like to bring along a favorite novel or two, which fires up fresh inspiration in me. Novels that remind me how sublime writing can be in any genre. Books like John D. MacDonald’s Cancel All Our Vows and Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.
What books would you choose for a day like this?
2. Set Goals
I believe in goals. I’ve set goals for myself every year, and it’s the only way I can look back and explain whatever it is I’ve managed to accomplish. If you are not satisfied with where you are, the best way to remedy that is to plan to get to where you want to be.
Goals give your dreams walking shoes.
The way to set goals is, first, decide exactly what you want to achieve. This has to be something you can control and measure. If you want to be a New York Times bestselling author, that’s not a goal because you can’t control it. What you can control is your writing schedule, your training, your word count, your study of markets and so on.
Write your goals on paper. There’s something about pen and paper that cements a goal in your mind. Every now and then write your goals again on a fresh piece of paper. That pours fresh cement.
Write your goals in present tense, as in I will…
…write 3,000 words a week.
…complete my novel by March 1.
…query three agents on April 20.
…self-publish my novel on June 1.
I would advise setting five writing goals for yourself each year.
One of your goals should be growth as a writer. We don’t tell our brain surgeons to stop studying the medical journals. Why should we tell our writers to stop studying their craft? (At least when a writer makes a mistake, nobody dies.)
Take the plunge and go to a good writers conference next year, like Story Masters. Come spend four solid days immersed in the craft of fiction with me, Christopher Vogler (Hollywood’s mythic structure guru) and super-agent Donald Maass. Story Masters 2015, runs Feb. 5-8 in beautiful Charleston, SC.
By the way, if you use this code SMFLYER when you register, you’ll get $50 off. 

This is important: Take some action toward at least one of your goals every day. If you miss writing one day, at least read an article in Writer’s Digest. Reward yourself when you reach a major benchmark. Do this, and you will begin to feel unstoppable. That’s a good way for a writer to feel.  
And decide, right now, that you will never quit. You are a writer, not someone who wants to write a novel or five. Not someone who hopes to make some scratch. A writer.For the rest of your life.  
3. Simplify Your Life
The past few generations have each had their simplicity movements. From the hippies of the 60s to Richard Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff in the 90s, right down to today with what some are calling the “minimalist movement.” (On this, see a post over at Writer Unboxed by Jan O’Hara).
Uncluttering your life is always a good thing. I’m reminded of the great soliloquy delivered by the hobo (played by Walter Brennan) in Meet John Doe (1941, dir. Frank Capra). He warns people not to become “heelots.”
You’re walkin’ along, not a nickel in your jeans, you’re free as the wind. Nobody bothers you. Hundreds of people pass you by in every line of business. Shoes, hats, automobiles, radios, furniture, everything, and they’re all nice loveable people. They let you alone…Then you get ahold of some dough and what happens? All those nice, sweet, lovable people become heelots. A lotta heels!

They begin creepin’ up on ya, tryin’ to sell ya something. They got long claws and they get a stranglehold on ya and ya squirm and ya duck and ya holler and ya try to push ’em away, but you haven’t got a chance. They’ve got ya. The first thing you know, you own things – a car, for instance. Now your whole life is messed up with a lot more stuff. You got license fees and number plates and gas and oil and taxes and insurance and identification cards and letters and bills and flat tires and dents and traffic tickets and motorcycle cops and courtrooms and lawyers and fines – and a million and one other things! And what happens? You’re not the free and happy guy you used to be. You’ve gotta have money to pay for all those things. So you go after what the other fella’s got. And there you are – you’re a heelot yourself.
Try this: give up one thing this year that you really don’t need. Skip one hour of television a night. Use that hour to write 200 words. An extra 200 words a day is an entire extra novel a year!
4. Be Grateful
Writers have many ways to make themselves miserable. Reading reviews, obsessing over sales rank, comparing ourselves to other writers. I keep thinking of one of the oldest jokes in the book:

Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” 

Doctor: “Then don’t do that.”
Stop doing the things that lead to misery. Do not, I repeat, do not click on that one-star review. I’ll let you peek at a five-star every now and then, but don’t let it go to your head. It’s better not to get caught up in either praise or criticism.
Instead, learn to be thankful. The religious sages and sagacious philosophers have taught us that the secret to happiness is gratitude.
Be thankful for every single good thing in your life, from the ability to get up in the morning to the people who love you most. Be thankful for the existence of language and beauty, of music and food. Write these things down and look at the list often.
Be thankful even for obstacles and challenges, because it is in meeting those that we grow stronger.
Finally, be thankful that you yearn to tell stories. It’s a good thing to have that inner fire. It makes life brighter, and reminds you that you are a human being and not a chair.
So here is a year-end toast to the scribes, the mad ones, the strange breed not content to trudge through life in the tight shoes of the ordinary but who, in Kerouac’s words, burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
May your writing pop ever brighter in 2015! 


Setting Goals

Nancy J. Cohen
As we begin the new year, it’s time to set our writing goals for 2014. Although this is a popular topic, here’s my take on it. I divide things into two categories: Creative and Business Goals.


Under the Creative category, put your writing projects. Which story do you want to start? What book do you need to finish? Do you want to try something new and different? Have you started writing the synopsis for your WIP yet? Which projects have priority?

In the Business category, put down everything you need to do to bring those above projects to market. What steps do you need to take? How will you publicize your work? What new venture might you try that you haven’t done before (i.e. chats, podcasts, trailers, audio)?Or do you plan to accept the risks and lengthy learning process of self-publishing for the first time?


Here are my goals for 2014. Whatever I don’t finish this year will get put off until 2015. I envision finishing my current WIP, doing the edits for my next romance, and then taking some time off to launch my self-publishing work. Then I can think about what to write next.

Finish Peril by Ponytail, #12 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries.
Do the edits for Warrior Lord, #3 in the Drift Lords series, when I get them from my editor.
Proofread the galleys until this project is done and in production.
Complete edits on my original mystery that I’m hoping to self-publish.

Implement marketing plan for Hanging By A Hair, #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries due out in April.
Complete legal preparation for self-publishing enterprise.
Hire book cover designer and ebook formatter.
Self-Publish my writing instructional booklet in time for SleuthFest. Order postcards.
Consider print and audio versions of above.
Design marketing plan for Warrior Lord once I get a pub date.
Begin prep work for publishing my father’s book, a true adventure of his 1929 hitchhiking journey across the U.S. It’s one of those things on my bucket list.

What goals have you set for 2014? Are you trying anything different for the first time?


Tired of winter weather? Enter my “Taste of the Tropics” contest at Win A Taste of the Virgin Islands Cookbook or one of two decks of Tropical Recipe Playing Cards. Deadline for entry is Jan. 25.


I Wish

by James Scott Bell

The New Year’s kickoff (other than the Rose Bowl) is usually a time of resolutions, goals, wishes. I’ve had a few of the latter. For example:

I wish I had the body of Steve Reeves.

I wish I could have played center field for the Dodgers.

I wish I had played quarterback for the USC Trojans, won the Heisman, and played my whole NFL career for the Rams.

I wish I could have seen Laurette Taylor on Broadway.

I wish I could sing like Ray Charles. I wish I could tickle the ivories like Martha Davis.

I wish I could have seen Jim Thorpe play football, Babe Ruth play baseball, and Beethoven play the piano.

I wish I could have had dinner with Shakespeare and Winston Churchill at the same time.

I wish I could write as effortlessly as Stephen King seems to.

But after wishing those things, I remind myself that I’ve got my own package to work with. The cards I was dealt. My job is to till the soil, plumb the depths, hose the driveway, paint the ceiling and write the books that come out of my particular package. I have to keep improving what I have, taking it as far as I can, leaving what is out of my hands to the forces that be.

As far as 2010 goes, I wish to make some plans. The overarching plan is to make this year the most productive of my writing life. Not necessarily in quantity–though I do have several projects in mind–but quality. This will be my twenty-second year as a serious writer, my fifteenth as a published novelist. I know a lot more now than when I began. If I don’t use this knowledge, and leverage it, then I’m wasting my experience.

So here’s to 2010 (for many of you, seeing 2009 in the rear view mirror is not a bad thing), and may it be productive for you in the best way possible.

What are some of the things you wished for at one time in your life?

What are your plans for the new year?