My father had his own set of proverbs that he dispensed like wisdom from the mountaintop. Even though it’s been decades since I lived in his house, I can still hear his voice in my head sharing such tenets as:
“A thing worth doing is worth doing well.”
“Leave a place as good as or better than you found it.”
“Stupid is as stupid does.” – Oh wait, that one’s not his.
But the adage I’ve been thinking about lately is “Sail into port with all your flags flying.” My dad was reminding me to follow a project all the way through, so that I could stand proud at the end—knowing I’d given it all I had.
Yet here I sit in November looking at my progress for the year and thinking my flags look a little sagging and tattered. Maybe you feel the same.
I haven’t followed through on all the projects I had intended to get done, and the countdown to the end of the year has begun! Not to mention that we all know how time-sucking the holidays can be, so good intentions about writing a novel in the week leading up to Christmas are probably just that—good intentions.
How can I possibly get my flags back up the pole and sail into the end-of-year port with my head held high, feeling great about my writing in 2018? Here are some tips for me, and for you:
1. Aim a little higher than do-able. It’s hard to say where your aim should be, because some of you are optimists, some are pessimists, and some are realists. (And no, you pessimists do not get to claim that you’re realists.)
Consider your own tendencies and set a goal that makes you stand on your tiptoes and reach, not one that you can grab while prone on your couch or one that requires stilts and a reaching hook. You want something that you can accomplish, but only with some extra effort.
2. Off-load the less important stuff. What are you currently doing that you really don’t have to do? There’s something you could put on the back burner or toss out with tomorrow’s garage. It might be an obligation someone else put on you that you struggle to pass up. But your writing career hereby gives you permission to say no.
Think of life this way: What am I doing that must be done or leaves the legacy I want to leave? Sure, I have to launder clothes or I will nothing to wear (and I am not becoming a nudist—you’re welcome), but outside the must-dos, which tasks meet your life’s mission and which are time-fillers? Ditch the latter. Or at least move them down the priority list. Clearing that space can give you more time and energy for writing.
3. Plan your days. Whether you’re the type to keep a color-coded calendar or a to-do list floating around in your head, you need a plan. Think about which personality you are, and then decide what will work for you.
You could plan out the rest of the year, or just wake up each day and plan out that particular day alone. But as another man who loved proverbs said: “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” (That was Zig Ziglar.) No matter how detailed or general, whether it’s the whole novel or just the next scene, have a plan.
4. Invite accountability. You know when I got the most done? When I reported to my children. Seriously, there’s nothing quite like disappointing your own kids. “I know I said we’d all do our homework, but I found this Netflix show that was totally binge-worthy, and then I spent an hour trying on dresses to see which ones covered up my midsection best.” Yeah, I never wanted to say anything like that to my own kids! What kind of horrible example would I be setting?
They’re grown and gone now, but I can find others to keep me accountable. And so can you. Tell someone else what you’re working on and then report periodically how it’s going. Then you’ll have someone to share your successes or give you the stink-eye when you need to get back on track.
5. Celebrate progress. Speaking of successes, celebrate your own. I once rewarded myself for completing a novel edit with a roller coaster ride. Given how much I love roller coasters, that was a great motivator. I also have a friend who keeps a tiara in her house to put on when she meets a big goal.
Others celebrate with dinners out, small or big purchases, or a mini-vacation. Make the celebration whatever you want, but reward yourself for keeping your flags up as you sail into port.
What project are you trying to finish before the end of the year? And what tips do you have for sailing into port with all your flags flying?
Although she grew up in Corpus Christi, Julie Glover has never sailed a boat. She did, however, recently come off a cruise ship where she enjoyed the gorgeous ocean and a wonderful conference/retreat with Cruising Writers.
When not at sea, Julie writes mysteries and young adult fiction. Her YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, finaled in the 2015 RWA® Golden Heart®. She is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.