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Question of the Month: Goal Check-In

by Susan Henderson on February 6, 2012

Remember how we talked about our writing goals? How are you doing? Want to report any progress or any trouble you’re having with reaching them?

My writing goal is to have a first draft of my book before my kids are out of school for the summer, and my non-writing goal is to get back to my fighting weight ASAP. My progress so far in 2012: +6 chapters, -5 pounds.

Note when I say I’ve “written” 6 chapters, I’m talking about the kind of writing I wouldn’t dare show a soul. I tend to write in layers of themes and story arcs, combing through the manuscript again and again as I have new insights or better understand the relationships between the characters. This first go-through is without many of those layers and without the poetry, rhythm and emotion I demand in my final drafts.

Still, I’m happy with my progress and think it’s mostly due to my checkmark system. I have a chart that consists of this: My morning weight and daily checkmarks for not eating between meals, for 5 exercise breaks, and for hitting my writing goal. For someone who would do anything for a gold star in kindergarten, this is the right system for me.

*

In other news, I’m happy (okay, ecstatic!) to announce that UP FROM THE BLUE will be produced as an audiobook by HarperAudio! The narrator will be Emily Durante, who’s narrated almost 100 books by authors such as Nora Roberts and Jacquelyn Mitchard. I’ve become so accustomed to the slooooooow pace of the publishing world that I was shocked to discover the audio business works at lightning speed. Four hours after I was told HarperAudio was interested, I heard from the producer, had a narrator, and a release date of April 10th (of THIS year)!

Some really lovely mentions of my book at The Entertaining Writer, Shannon’s Book Bag, and La La Lovely. Thank you! And I have some upcoming events in Florida, Maine, New York, and California. Details are over here in case you’d like to join me.

I’m going to end with news about someone LitPark regulars know well—Jessica Keener—whose book, NIGHT SWIM, is now (finally!) out in the world.  Reading this book was pure pleasure. It’s a poignant and sensual examination of a life and a nation on the cusp of change. Sixteen-year-old Sarah brings us a moody and burgeoning wisdom as she pulls us toward secrets we recognize—the desire to hurry past pain and loss toward adulthood, the pull to belong and yet not be absorbed completely into the will of others. In a delicate balance of rebellion and compassion, Sarah teaches us to listen and hold tight to our dreams. Please click here and check it out! It’s gorgeous!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Eileen-Rita Folwell February 6, 2012 at 4:46 am

2012 is the year I put my writing on hold to finish my studies. The dreams are not taking a back seat, but are waiting patiently in the side car for a while.

But I do still have a writing goal, and that is to not forget how much I love it and to always read this blog each month. Inspirational, funny and intelligent, these monthly musings will keep me rooted in the world of words and I hope to keep reading of your continued, deserved success.

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Susan Henderson February 6, 2012 at 12:13 pm

I’m a big believer that writing happens in the back of the brain, even when we’re busy with other things. That’s exciting to know you’re in the homestretch with your studies and then you’ll have time to really pour into your screenplays! Also very glad you’ll still be here because I like having you around. 🙂

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Nathalie (@spacedlaw) February 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I am writing, I am writing.
Slowly and gritting my teeth but still…
Got one acceptance for a poem and one rejection for a story, good signs both of them because they show activity on my part.

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Susan Henderson February 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

That’s great! An acceptance and tons of writing in one month! Be sure to post links to where we can read your poem.

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billie hinton February 6, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Love the opportunity to check in re: writing goals – thank you for providing!!

I have a similar way of working as you describe with early drafts – I was on writing retreat last week and completed the first draft of book two in my middle grade Magical Pony School series. It captures what I think is the main “arc” of the story – and plugs in a few of the dots for the layers that will come – but I’ve found that once I get that main arc in place the magic happens with subsequent passes and it always amazes me how connecting all those dots ends up making a complete story. 🙂

I also collated all the pages and sections of my nonfiction book about living with horses into one word document. I was shocked to discover that it is over 900 pages! I’ve portioned out volume one and am considering whether this is in fact an ongoing series – I think it might be.

I’ve maintained my commitment to get these two projects finished and out the door before I go back to the novel I started a few months back. It would be so easy for me to fall off that wagon and dive into THAT. I’m aiming to get back to it by May at the latest.

So far it’s being a busy but very full and rewarding year. Congrats on your audio sale!!

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Susan Henderson February 6, 2012 at 8:08 pm

That’s such the better way of describing a very familiar process: “the first draft …. captures what I think is the main “arc” of the story – and plugs in a few of the dots for the layers that will come – but I’ve found that once I get that main arc in place the magic happens with subsequent passes and it always amazes me how connecting all those dots ends up making a complete story”

It must have felt so great when you put all those pages together and discovered how much you’ve written. Horse series never go out of style… there’s always a hungry audience for them.

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Jeff Sinclair February 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I decided in 2012 I wouldn’t be too hard on myself for not pleasing the teacher’s assistants with my academic essays. They’re terribly particular, and I really ran myself into the ground about it last year. I do my best to conform for the grade and that’s all I can do. I also decided to get started on papers much earlier than I had been.

In January I storyboarded the last quarter of my novel, as well as the next two books in the series. I told myself I’d finish the first one by spring. So far, I’m on schedule, and chugging along nicely. I also accepted the fact that while many writers keep to 2,000+ words a day or more, 400-600 is my speed on this particular series of books. It hearkens back to the old epic, so I’ve come to terms with the difficulty of harnessing the old storytelling techniques (and language) it requires.

So far my theme has been ‘done beat yourself up, but be diligent.’ It’s working out really well so far.

🙂

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Susan Henderson February 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Hey, Jeff, so glad you’re here! I’d love to hear what your process of storyboarding looks like–if you use an outline or index cards or sticky notes, how much you sketch out and that sort of thing. I’m endlessly curious about the writing process!

You’re very smart to respect your own style and speed. The worst writer’s block I ever had was when a writer, trying to be helpful, told me I needed to find my “zone” every day before I wrote a word. Sadly, I’m only in my zone two or three times a year and the rest is a much more blue-color process, an unglamorous brick by brick approach without the magic of hearing voices in my head and all of those zonish things. I completely froze, thinking I was a failure for not being able to reach that state that came so easily to her. In the end, I had to realize all of that was great for her, but I run a completely different way and have to just be me.

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Jeff Sinclair February 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm

(Sorry about the typo… at the bottom in the last post that should have been *don’t beat yourself up.)

I’m happy to be here, I love following your musings. 🙂 Ohmigosh, that’s the worst, being told to essentially wait for inspiration. That’s fine for people who write one book every few years, but it’s just not practical otherwise. It really is a job, and brick by brick is the way to do real work. If, every now and then, something brilliant happens in the process (and they certainly do), then great. But our minds have to be trained to know that it’s storytime, time to get to work.

I’ve taken much of my advice from Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, but some advice I got that I’ve never forgotten is from a correspondence with Anne Rice, who talked about ‘writing in a state of white-hot emotion.’ I knew immediately what she was talking about. She said it can drive a writer crazy, but to her it’s worth it. So over the years I’ve combined the brick by brick method with writing with white-hot emotion. When I do this, I feel so fulfilled. Maybe one day I’ll be able to put it into words and form a special curriculum I can teach.

As for my storyboarding, I wish I could take a picture for you but my phone quit on me yesterday. Basically, I have a huge dry erase board on one wall in my study. I don’t like to blueprint everything exactly, but when I come to a new segment or scene, I go to the board and just sequence things on a simple graph so I can see the main happenings. I often sit in the middle of the room just staring up at the board until crucial little details come to me, and then I scribble them in. After a couple days or so, the board is a nice clutter of details and doodles. Doodles are mostly for new characters as they come to me, major and minor.

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Susan Henderson February 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I absolutely love knowing about the dry erase board and plotting the bare bones of the scene. (Post a photo over on your FaceBook page when your phone is working again.) Sounds like you and Billie and I have a similar method this time around, but my last book the details came first. That was a crazy making process to go from detail to plot, but it’s just the way it came about.

I’m a huge fan of both Stephen King’s and Annie Dillard’s books. Don’t know much about the white-hot emotion method and would love to hear more when you have time.

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Jessica Keener February 7, 2012 at 3:39 am

Susan, I’m so happy for your progress. You found a system that is working for you. What better discovery is that? I’m also thrilled to hear about your audio book. I can’t wait to listen to it. And, what an extra surprise to see your lovely shout out about Night Swim. Thank you so much for your support. I’m still in the throes of “marketing” my debut and I expect this to continue for a bit before I retreat and get to work finishing up my next novel. I’m not sitting down and writing sentences just yet, but my newer work is in my thoughts constantly, including private discussions (with myself) about plot and structure. Thank you for being such a wonderful backer of my literary efforts.

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Susan Henderson February 7, 2012 at 11:30 pm

The throes of marketing is a good thing–but a strange and uncomfortable and exhausting one, and sometimes you don’t realize just how exhausting until it’s over and you can’t do anything but sit in a chair and stare at the wall. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear the stories… and so glad we’ll be doing events in Maine and NYC together to really catch up!

Everyone, be sure to check out Jess’s book! http://www.amazon.com/Night-Swim-Jessica-Keener/dp/1936558262/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328657424&sr=1-1

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Mardi Link February 10, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Just found this sweet discussion from Shelf Awareness and I’m already nodding at the rare times I’m in my “Zone” but write everyday anyway, and thinking about buying a dry erase board! Thanks for this! Plus, I’m out in the sticks, so always looking for a writer’s community and increasingly finding that online is the way to find one.

My goal is to finish revisions on my memoir by the end of the month.

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Susan Henderson February 10, 2012 at 2:30 pm

Mardi, Welcome! I love Bob Gray’s column in Shelf Awareness today and am so glad you read it. Also glad to know I’m not alone with my ultra-rare zone moments… that we’re still writers.

What’s your memoir about? (But don’t answer till you finish it!! I don’t want to get you off-task.)

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Billy Bones February 15, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Great news about the audiobook! Congratulations.

Mr. Lincoln has been able to check off one goal. Hopefully his illustrated short story, The Shadow’s Glow, will show up on iTunes any day now. Now it’s time he got back to his main goal of finishing his WIP.

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Susan Henderson February 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm

Speaking of audiobooks, I had the great pleasure of listening to this one last week! Incredible, very Neil Gaiman-like narration, not to mention a truly great story! http://www.amazon.com/Billy-Bones-Tales-Secrets-Closet/dp/B006YMJ6N0

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Billy Bones February 15, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I am so glad you enjoyed it. As soon as I heard Peter Bishop’s voice, I couldn’t sign him up fast enough.

(Also, thanks for providing a link.)

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Susan Henderson February 17, 2012 at 1:45 am
Billy Bones February 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

: )

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Mike February 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Thanks for the mention, but thanks even more for “Up From the Blue”.

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Susan Henderson February 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Hey, Mike, Glad you’re here, and thank you again for the review!

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