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Monday, January 5, 2015

SETTING PROJECT GOALS FOR 2015..........By Gail L. Jenner

Okay, so it's now 2015......

Weren't we just "getting ready for Y2K?"  Every year since 2000, my husband and I have looked at each other and remarked on how quickly the years have gone by. And now it's another new year: WOW!

Of course, talking about New Year's goals is inevitable. With every January, we hear about what others have set as their project goals: perhaps to lose weight or find a new job or get that clothes closet or attic cleaned up and out, yada yada.....

BUT, for writers, the goal-setting process seems to take on a whole new level of importance...good grief, writing a 250 page novel doesn't just "happen" for most of us. Even plotting or developing a good storyline is about PLANNING.....

Clearly then, setting goals, or objectives, are a necessary part of the writing process, right? But do they have to be carved in stone? Does that work for every writer?  If only....

It certainly doesn't work well for me.

At the same time, those long range plans are always "out there!" And they may be pie in the sky, but they are part of the drive or motivation needed behind clicking those keys and digging through stores of research material to find just that unique detail or storyline....

Ideally, writers ought to limit the number of goals or project ideas they pursue....however......
I'm guilty of taking the "shotgun" approach in developing writing projects. I seem to have a natural inclination to try my hand at everything, or at least dabble in more than one genre at a time.  Is that wise? I used to think it was foolish; even now I admire those single-minded writers who work diligently on one project until it's well-honed and ready for publication.

However, I've also come to know myself well enough to recognize that I am not a linear writer. It would be nice if I started with project A, went to B, then finished with C. Unfortunately, I might start with project A -- clearly motivated and focused -- then suddenly deviate and jump over to C, D, or even E before returning to # B!

Anyone else find themselves jumping into a variety of projects in the course of any given year? 

In the last few years, I've given myself permission to accept/work on a variety of things all at the same time, including smaller projects (ie: essays, short stories) and a number of larger projects (ie: novel/book/script). And if I try to deny myself the luxury -- or folly -- of working on multiple projects during the same time span I often get stymied and end up producing less in the long run.

Thus I have learned to accept my rather unorthodox methodology even while developing a strategy and long-range plan for myself. I've come to accept that my lifestyle (ranching, teaching, babysitting grandkids, gardening, etc.) frequently keeps me from maintaining a rigorous and predictable writing schedule, and I'm "okay" with that. I don't beat myself up if I don't write, ie: 4 hours a day, everyday.

I've given myself permission to paint outside the lines by accepting my individual limitations and peculiarities. So what do my goals/objectives look like? How do I identify what it is I will achieve this year?

My approach is fairly simple:

1. I keep a calendar and I monitor my time by making use of the odd hours where I can work quietly on my more serious projects. I also make use of the more random hours where I squeeze in work that is easier to finish.

2. I identify/enumerate deadlines for myself. Some are imposed deadlines, eg: the three monthly historical essays I write for Jefferson Public Radio/NPR; the blog I write for Prairie Rose each month; and the historical article I write for the regional publication Jefferson Backroads every month. Others are for deadlines I seek out, eg: for short story contests or anthologies (like the PRP collections). A few are merely exercises in writing that I suspect or hope will be fleshed out sometime in the future. These often become my project goals for the future.

3. I collect and file notes and thoughts for the various nonfiction projects I am planning to pitch sometime in the future. I don't labor over these things, but keep them close at hand.

4. I write in the wee morning hours and sometimes in the midnight hours on bigger projects so that I'm less likely to be interrupted. Maybe I don't zip through them, but I keep moving forward. And when I can't concentrate as much as I'd like, I start with revisions or some specific research questions, then wend my way back into my story. In this way, I don't waste time staring at the blank page!

So, how do we establish our individual writing goals for 2015? How do we isolate those things that seem to be coming to the surface? I suppose some writers find it easier to develop a strong master plan with goals 1, 2, or 3 all spelled out and posted to the wall.

However, my over-riding motivation to write and my unquenchable love of writing have more sway in the evolution of my yearly goals than a constructed or rigid list of goals.

* * * * * * * *

Gail L. Jenner is the author of two novels, including ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS,   WINNER of the WILLA Literary Award from Women Writing the West, recently re-released by Prairie Rose Publications.

She has coauthored five nonfiction regional histories, and has contributed to a number of anthologies, including Prairie Rose's LASSOING A BRIDE, PRESENT FOR A COWBOY, and the upcoming Valentine's anthology, COWBOY KISSES. Her work has been published in numerous women's and Christian publications, including Better Homes & Gardens, Everyday With Rachel Ray, Country Woman, Range, Parenting Teenagers, Living with Teens, Keys for Kids, Decision, and more. Her second novel, BLACK BART: THE POET BANDIT, placed in the Jack London Novel Contest.


  1. A thought provoking blog, Gail.
    I can't really say I do any of this kind of goal setting for my work for the coming year. I only set a generalized goal of 2 stories a year. I have 2 monthly blogs and I always stress out about them.
    Although I do have 2 projects at the moment, I don't usually have more than one I concentrate on at a time. When I get ideas, I write them down in a notebook to work on later. In the past I have worked on several projects at the same time and it led to writer's block. It didn't matter that I had the stories completely plotted out and plenty of story ideas, I just stalled out and shut down. We're all different in our methods to get our work out there. For me, I have to love my hero and admire my heroine. That means I have to focus on them until they fill my thoughts and invade my dreams. Even now I'm conflicted about which of my 2 projects to focus on. It's scary for me to feel this way. I don't like feeling conflicted.
    Your book, Across The Sweet Grass Hills, is also included in the boxed set of 5 western romance novels for 99 cents. It's a tremendous offer for as long as it lasts.
    I wish you all the best in the coming year, Gail.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Sarah! Yes, we are all different in the way we execute our writing... :-) I wish I could remain more dedicated to one project at a time, although I do stay quite focused when I am working under a deadline. Deadlines are a great incentive to stay focused! Like you, though, I do stay with a storyline initially until I have more characters well established. I love characterization and believe it is what makes good stories better -- or even great. Out of my characters arise the larger and internal conflicts facing the hero/heroine, et al.

    Yes, Across the Sweet Grass Hills is part of the boxed set of novels at the special rate. I feel honored to have been included and hope the sales continue! I have felt so blessed all year to be a part of the Roses...I am grateful for the vision and dedication of Cheryl, Livia, Kathleen, and all the other Roses. What a dedicated group of writers. Prairie Rose has given us all so many opportunities. It's been a great 2014 for all of us under the PRP mantle :-) I look forward to more projects for them!

    Again, thanks for stopping by. Hope 2015 is a healthy, happy and satisfying year for you and yours, Sarah.

  3. Gail,

    I do relate to you style. My various 'job' and odd hours tend to put most of my life into seat of the pants mode. I'm okay with that, but sometimes I do miss things (like my post yesterday-Roses I do apologize). Usually my writing is done between January and March when things quiet down.

    Thank you for the tips and here is to a 2015 you and everyone else can look back on and was a good year. Doris

    1. Hi Doris -- Thanks for the note. I used to get frustrated with the "odd" hours of writing, etc., but finally decided to go with it. By allowing myself to write when/how I could, I found relief in not being upset by the ups and downs. Life is way too short to take it too seriously all the time although there are those issues that bring you down no matter what. Perhaps with age, I've begun to see that I can choose my responses to what goes on -- and in spite of the events that steer us off course or those terrible sad times that come along, I can maintain a healthier and more positive outlook!

      Yes, here's to 2015! May everyone achieve at least a portion of what they set out to accomplish. Cheers!

  4. A lot of good thoughts, Gail. I understand that jumping from project A to Project C, D or E and hoping I get back to Project B with the muse still intact. Had that happen when I finished one novel in a series, started novel 2, jumped to my little Christmas novelette (a valuable decision), but had trouble getting back to novel two in the series, especially after several weeks of heavy-duty blog writing and promotional efforts. When I'm on a hot streak for a novel, I really try to stay with it to completion, writing any time of the day or night I can be alone in a quiet house.

    As far as setting times aside, I'm still working on convincing my husband that I don't do my best writing with the TV news or game shows going and the sound turned up full-blast. I constantly resist giving in to friends and associates in organizations to which I belong thinking I really prefer to spend my writing time doing the projects they want done.

    Some people like a little background music or noise when they write, but I prefer dead silence, a locked front door and no telephones. My goal for the coming year may be to set up a separate writing area in a room with a door on the other side of the house from the television. :-)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

    1. I hear you, Robyn! My husband has finally grown to appreciate ? my need for time to write. It used to be something like "you can do that later, can't you?" Now he applauds me when I find a few hours to devote in one sitting. Thankfully, I do have a separate place in which to hibernate -- although since we do have hard winters and we do heat with wood, sometimes it's a bit chilly up in my "room." When that happens, I do stay closer to the fire and him and the TV, but I am pretty good at blocking out the noise. I prefer the quiet, however, and find I get far more work done in the silence. Yes, I also have friends who write to music. Sometimes it inspires me initially, but once "on the trail" I have to move into my head :-)

      Saying no is also a tough one for me, but I am becoming more selective. That's probably one of the areas I need to monitor more carefully.

      Thanks for the note!!! Here's to 2015 and meeting our writing challenges,

  5. My goal-setting is general and always changeable. :-) Great post, Gail!

    1. For me, too, being flexible is a positive! Otherwise you could drive yourself crazy. I admire those who can maintain their goals and objectives for an entire DO they do it?! :-)

      Thanks for the note, Kristy! Looking forward to 2015....

  6. Hello Gail. Your short blip about Y2K brought a smile to my face. I stored toilet paper, paper towels and bottled water for over a year just waiting for the worst to happen. Needless to say when nothing did I didn't have to buy toilet paper for a year. My kids really razzed me about what I saved. I guess I thought having a clean backside as well as something to wipe our hands were very important in the scheme of things, not to mention a body can not live without water....And it does seem the older I get the quicker time goes by, I mean wasn't it just Labor Day the other day??? As far as planning and plotting my writing schedule...I go in spurts. the idea forms in my head, I do research, take a bunch of notes which are written on napkins, scraps of papers since I tend to write on what ever is near when an idea hits me. I do have notebooks and a day planner plus a small memo book in my purse, but I tend not to take the time to go find my purse incase the idea escapes me. I am working on this. I always envy the writers with clean desks, an organized planner and know exactly where they left their pile of notes.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      Yes - Y2K! We all thought we should store up supplies although we figured on the ranch we were ready for anything... :-) But how quickly the years passed.

      I sure relate to your "methodology!" I write all over any old slip of paper, too, although I try to keep notebooks handy, one for every project! But I find I have to go back to those original pieces of paper.....I seem to recall even the location of particular notes ON those sheets of paper. I still like to brainstorm on paper vs. on the computer. Isn't it fun to see how people plan and plot!

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope 2015 is a productive year for everyone.

  7. Gail, I used to try to really make a plan and stick with it. Then, I had kids. LOL I realized I was going to have to be flexible--and when that happened, I became like "GUMBY" or something--VERY flexible--and it has worked for me through the years. So I don't really ever make New Year's Resolutions --but I do have a few "big things" I tell myself I have to finish--each year, I try to finish and publish a new book. I was able to slide for a year or two--since I brought over all my books (except one) to PRP and was able to put those out as a "new" release. But that's over with now, until I can get my rights back to that last book I have out there with another publisher. So this year--there's going to be a new book, at some point. And of course, there'll be some short stories, too.

    I've learned to be happy with looking back and seeing what I've done over the past year--and knowing that I did the best I could do during the circumstances, no matter what they might have been.


    1. I love the image of Gumby!! Yes, flexible is my middle name anymore, too, but it seems to work for all concerned. Your endeavors have paid off not only for you but for so many of us! Thank you, Cheryl, thank you, for your confidence and dedication. PRP has become a wonderful avenue for all of the "roses" (love that designation :-)). I'll look forward to the NEW book and stories that hit the stands.

      You're right: the looking back is a good way to re-evaluate and even congratulate oneself on work completed. It's been a good year for me in that vein. Thanks again,


  8. Hi Gail,
    Sorry I'm late! Great article, and some profound questions both asked and answered. How much is too much? Am I hacking away at something best set aside for now?

    My goal for this year is simple. I will finish the trilogy that has been inside my head for some-odd years, and publish at least book 1 and 2. I want to continue to write short stories for the PRP anthologies, and work in my every-other month blog that feels hard now, but should get easier with practice.

    I will attend the monthly local RWA group meetings and learn as much as I can about my new profession from everyone around me. I think that has to be priority one. I'm still on baby-steps, but I'm scaling this learning curve with enthusiasm and just a bit of anxiety.

    I'm glad I fell in with such a wonderful bunch of writers. If it sometimes seems like I'm watching from the sidelines... it is with true admiration.